After a top Sinaloa Cartel “narco junior” secretly pleaded guilty in a U.S. federal court and is now cooperating with U.S. authorities, Mexico’s Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam reaffirmed that Mexico has “no intention” of extraditing drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to the U.S., where he faces multiple criminal charges in several states.
According to the Mexican press, Murillo Karam said he disapproves of U.S. prosecutors “reaching deals with criminals,” as they secretly did last year with Jesús Vicente “El Vicentillo” Zambada Niebla. Vicentillo is the 39-year old son of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, long considered No. 2 in the Sinaloa Cartel and now believed to be the new King after Guzmán’s arrest in February.
In a surprising plea bargain, reached a year ago and unsealed by a U.S. District Court in Chicago on April 4, Vicentillo admitted that he coordinated shipments of tons of cocaine and heroin as a top associate of El Chapo and a “trusted lieutenant for his father.” Under the deal, which was signed by five defense attorneys, he faces at least 10 years behind bars, and a fine of up to $4 million. If he provides “full and truthful cooperation” against El Chapo and his father, the government will try to spare him from a life sentence.
Vicentillo also agreed to forfeit assets amounting to $1.37 billion to the U.S. government, a figure he did not challenge – indicating that not only top leaders of the world’s most powerful cartels can amass billions, but possibly their children as well. El Chapo was included in Forbes World’s Billionaires list until 2012.
U.S. prosecutors consider Vicentillo their top witness against El Chapo if Mexico ever agrees to extradite him. There are unconfirmed reports that the U.S. government is strongly considering asking the Mexican government for the drug lord’s extradition now that they have Vicentillo on their side.
Murillo Karam said that the U.S. government has made no formal request to bring El Chapo to the U.S. But, he added, even if there were a formal request, “the fact is that we have no intention to send him” to be tried in U.S. courts. Furthermore, Murrillo Karam said that the U.S.-Mexico extradition treaty calls for criminals to be extradited only after they have served their full sentence in their native country. Guzmán faces eight active criminal cases in Mexico.
In addition to Murillo’s legal arguments, there is also a political factor. “On the issue of extradition, there have always been sensitivities between Mexico and the U.S. because Mexico has to cede sovereignty,” Sergio Aguayo, an expert on Mexican national security and current visiting professor at Harvard University, told me. Up until the Calderón Administration, Mexico believed that nationals should not be extradited to the U.S. because letting U.S. courts try them meant an implicit recognition of Mexico’s judicial failure. Now with the PRI back in power some of those sensitivities have returned. Extraditing him before he serves his full term in Mexico will be politically very sensitive.
Chicago’s prosecutors are convinced they have the strongest case against El Chapo if he ever crosses the border. Vicentillo is one of four codefendants charged alongside El Chapo in Chicago who is currently in U.S. custody. Edgar Manuel Valencia, an alleged Guzman henchman, was arrested in Las Vegas in January and secretly brought to Chicago, The Chicago Sun Timesreported. The U.S. government says the Sinaloa Cartel controls the drug distribution in the midwest. In 2013, Chicago declared El Chapo “Public Enemy Number One.”
Vicentillo was arrested in 2009 and extradited to the U.S. the following year. His attorneys said their client could not be prosecuted because he was a DEA informant and that DEA had granted him immunity in return for information. U.S. court documents published by the Mexican daily El Universal earlier this year seem to confirm that Vincentillo was an informant. But DEA has denied granting immunity to Vicentillo in return for intelligence on rival cartels. This made the plea bargain with Vicentillo even more controversial.