LATIN AMERICA

El Chapo Guzmán tries to negotiate plea bargain with US prosecutors

If extradited, the Mexican drug boss wants to avoid a trial and reach an agreement for a reduced sentence

Joaquín Guzmán, durante un examen sanitario en la prisión de El Altiplano.
Joaquín Guzmán, durante un examen sanitario en la prisión de El Altiplano.AFP

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Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán will plead guilty if extradited to the United States in exchange for a reduction in his applicable sentence. That’s according to his lawyer, José Refugio Rodríguez. The leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel wants to avoid an American trial, because in the past, traffickers who have chosen that route have received tough sentences. “It is a fact that if extradited he will plead guilty to the charges against him there because, if not, he will have to face a trial where his culpability will be discussed, and experience tells us that all those who have been in his situation who went to trial did very poorly,” the legal representative explained.

In Texas, he stands accused of criminal enterprise, conspiracy to possess firearms, money laundering and murder

The Mexican government said on Friday that it had approved the United States’ extradition request for El Chapo to appear before two US district courts. California is accusing Guzmán of organizing a cocaine-distribution network. In Texas, he stands accused of criminal enterprise, conspiracy to possess firearms, money laundering and murder. “It is worth noting that the US government gave enough guarantees that it will not seek the death penalty for Guzmán Loera if he is extradited and tried in that country,” the Mexican Foreign Affairs Ministry said.

Mexico’s approval of the extradition request did not discourage Guzmán Loera, his attorney explained to EL PAÍS during a telephone interview. Refugio added that it is actually better for his client to face justice on American soil because he has seen how other people who have been in situations like his ended up with very favorable conditions that would never be granted in Mexico.

“Joaquín Guzmán is a person who is willing to face justice on American soil but only if there is an agreement regarding the conditions he will face,” Refugio said. One incentive would be a plea deal that would reduce his applicable sentence and keep him out of a maximum security prison.

The leader of the Sinaloa cartel hopes to secure a plea bargain similar to that of his former associate and friend Jesús Héctor “El Güero” Palma Salazar

The leader of the Sinaloa cartel hopes to secure a plea bargain similar to that of his former associate and friend Jesús Héctor “El Güero” Palma Salazar. Both men were imprisoned in Puente Grande Federal Prison (Jalisco state) in the 1990s. According to court papers, they controlled the facility and smuggled in drugs, alcohol and prostitutes. Guzmán escaped in 2001, while Palma was extradited to the United States in 2007, where he was sentenced to 16 years in prison for drug trafficking. El Güero, who was one of the leaders of the cartel, will be freed next month for good behavior after serving nearly nine years, his prison record says.

It may take one to three years for Mexican and American officials to process El Chapo’s extradition. During that time, his defense team will try to avoid extradition through appeals while negotiating a plea bargain with US officials. “Until we formalize an agreement we will keep fighting on national soil, because Joaquín is not defeated on national soil.”

El Chapo remains hopeful that he will reach a plea deal with American authorities.

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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