Victor Abarca

There’s plenty of speculation about when and how former Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán could get extradited to the United States. But the kingpin himself might have some say in deciding whether it happens in a few weeks, a few months, or a year from now, according to U.S. and Mexican judicial and security experts.

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“If Chapo’s lawyers successfully appeal this decision [to extradite] it could delay the process anywhere from six to nine months, even if the Mexican government wants to extradite him quickly,” Ignacio Pinto-León, a Mexican law expert at the University of Houston, told Fusion.

The drug lord’s defense counsel could  file motions in the next few days to halt extradition proceedings. And if they lose that appeal, they could still ask for a revision of the case that would stall the process for another four to eight months, Pinto-León said.

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So even though things suddenly appear to moving quickly in El Chapo's expected extradition to the United States, the incarcerated drug boss could still set the pace.

On Saturday, El Chapo was transferred to a prison near the Texas border. Two days later a Mexican federal judge ruled that he can be extradited, citing a formal request made by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs will have 20 days to decide if it wants to hand over the country’s biggest drug war trophy to the gringos.

But Chapo’s defense team could use the legal appeals process and the threat of delay as a bargaining chip to negotiate the terms of extradition.

Mexican army soldiers stands guard outside Chapo's new prison in Ciudad Juárez.
AP

“Depending on how much he wants to appeal, extradition could take another year,” says Eric Olson, a security expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center. He says El Chapo doesn’t have a strong hand to play, but he can still use legal recourse available to him as leverage.

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Chapo’s lawyer, Jose Refugio Rodriguez, told Mexican daily Excelsior that his client is allegedly looking to negotiate the terms of his extradition.

“What he can do is say that he will cooperate with U.S. authorities in exchange for his family’s protection, or some other consideration during his sentencing,” Olson said.

U.S. Department of State spokesman Peter Carr told Fusion the U.S. has filed multiple extradition requests for El Chapo with Mexican authorities, but declined to comment further on the case.

U.S. prosecutors in California, Chicago and New York are engaging in a “tug of war” to put the world’s most famous drug lord on trial, according to a report by the L.A. Times.

Chapo faces charges on drug trafficking, money laundering and related crimes in at least six U.S. jurisdictions.