US Indictment Shows Escalating Political Battle for Mexico’s ‘El Chapo’

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The latest superseding indictment of Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman from the Eastern District of New York illustrates just how desperate prosecutors in the US are to get their hands on Mexico’s infamous drug lord.

The indictment of Chapo and fellow Sinaloa Cartel leader Ismael Zambada Garcia, alias “El Mayo,” was filed on September 25 this year (PDF). It includes more than 20 counts of murder, conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder of informants, members of rival cartels, and Mexican officials and police.

There are, however, few details of the murders, with some of the victims listed as “members of Los Zetas” (or other criminal groups) and no specifications given as to where or how the murders occurred or how Guzman or Zambada were specifically linked to the cases.

The newest indictment is a significant leap from a 2009 indictment (PDF) signed by the same attorneys’ office, which makes allusion only to cocaine trafficking charges but says nothing about murder. In addition, the new indictment includes counts of marijuana, methamphetamine and heroin trafficking that were not included in the earlier document and goes into greater detail on the dates and sizes of drug shipments. 

InSight Crime Analysis

The scramble to get Chapo to a US courtroom began immediately after he was captured in February in Mexico. He remains in a high security prison, while Mayo is still at large.

The Eastern District of New York indictment raises the bar and indicates just how political this possible extradition has become on the US side. (See InSight Crime’s assessment of the Mexican political battle here.) By increasing the counts against major drug lords like Chapo, courts throughout the US aim to outdo each other and claim the credit in case of an extradition, thus raising their prestige.

SEE ALSO: Sinaloa Cartel News and Profile

Unnamed sources told the New York Daily News that if Chapo is ever handed to the US, New York is expected to be his first destination. The murder counts may be a way of drawing more attention to the New York attorneys’ efforts in an attempt to ensure this happens. But the charges provide little in the way of substance — the who, how or where — making them seem largely political.

A similar political impetus can be seen in Chicago’s Crime Commission and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) naming Chapo “Public Enemy Number One.” Local police and federal authorities told InSight Crime that although he supplies a huge amount of drugs to Chicago, his organization is not responsible for the violence in that city.

Not all prosecutors are so blatantly political. A 2012 indictment from the US District Court for the Western District of Texas, El Paso Division (PDF) also accused Chapo and various associates of murder. However, the El Paso document provided specific details of how a Sinaloa Cartel hit man carried out two particular crimes, rather than making broad allegations. 

The irony is that even with all these US Attorneys Offices — seven in all — vying for Chapo, he may never be extradited

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