Drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was transferred Saturday from the maximum-security Altiplano prison in central Mexico to a prison in Ciudad Juarez, near the border with the United States, a senior Mexican law enforcement source told CNN.
“Due to the proximity (to the U.S.), it makes it easier to extradite him,” the official said.
The exact reason for the move is unclear, but it comes one month after a Mexican lawyer leading his legal defense team said his client wanted to be extradited to the United States “as soon as possible” because conditions at Altiplano were unbearable and making him seriously ill.
In a statement, Mexico’s National Safety Commission said Guzman was transferred to the “CEFERESO No. 9” facility in the northern state of Chihuahua. “Such transfer was carried out with full respect for the human rights of the inmate,” the statement said.
Mexico’s government attributed Guzman’s transfer to renovations intended to improve security at Altiplano.
But the United States has been preparing for Guzman’s transfer for months and have been hammering out the security details, American officials said.
It’s not immediately clear when Guzman will be turned over to U.S. custody.
Once he is transferred, Guzman will be sent to Brooklyn, New York, to stand trial on federal charges, the officials told CNN.
In recent weeks, Justice Department officials held a conference call with several federal prosecutors handling pending charges against Guzman.
Top Justice Department officials decided a case largely based on a Homeland Security Department investigation would be the charges for which he would stand trial.
The Brooklyn venue offers advantages because a federal detention center that is part of the court complex offers the appropriate level of security, according to the officials.
Guzman is the focus of 10 legal cases in Mexico, mainly for drug trafficking, murder and charges related to his role as a cartel leader. But he also faces charges in Arizona, California, Texas, Illinois, New York, Florida and New Hampshire.
Guzman and his lieutenants are named in U.S. indictments for alleged involvement in marijuana, cocaine and heroin trafficking, as well as racketeering, money laundering, kidnapping and conspiracy to commit murder.
Altiplano is the same prison near Mexico City from which the drug lord escaped last July and to which he was returned after his January 8 recapture in the coastal city of Los Mochis in Sinaloa state.
President Enrique Peña Nieto said in late January that he’s directed his attorney general’s office to “make this extradition of this highly dangerous criminal happen as soon as possible.”