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Judge sets Mexican trial for 'El Chapo' in motion

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Posted: Feb 25, 2014 1:55 PM

Updated: Feb 25, 2014 1:56 PM

MEXICO CITY (AP) A federal judge ruled Tuesday that drug kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman must stand trial on drug-trafficking charges and remain for the immediate future in Mexico, where authorities say there is no chance of escaping his cell in the nation's highest-security prison.

It is at least the second case launched against Guzman in Mexico since he was captured Saturday morning in a condominium the Pacific coast city of Mazatlan after 13 years on the run. He has been indicted in at least seven U.S. jurisdictions for crimes committed during his reign as fugitive head of the Sinaloa cartel, a multi-billion dollar cartel that dominated drug trafficking in much of Mexico and stretched into dozens of other countries.

Top Mexican officials have made increasing clear that they want Guzman to face all local charges, and interrogation by Mexican investigators looking to dismantle his cartel, before they consider extraditing him to the U.S.

A second judge was expected to rule Tuesday on whether Guzman should go to trial on separate drug-trafficking charges.

Guzman was being held in a maximum-security prison in the state of Jalisco in 2001 when he escaped in a laundry cart, according to the official account, and spent more than a decade running the Sinaloa cartel from a series of hideouts around western Mexico.

Mexican officials say that won't happen again.

"We think he's being perfectly guarded and watched, and we don't think it's necessary to do anything else," Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, the country's most powerful law-enforcement official, told The Associated Press. "He will be very isolated. He won't be allowed to continue with his operations."

But experts say President Enrique Pena Nieto's government hasn't proven able to match headline-grabbing arrests like Guzman's with complex, long-term investigations and prosecutions of deep-rooted criminal networks. Cases have stalled, cartels keep operating and last year one of Guzman's closest allies walked out of the prison where the U.S. said he was running drugs from behind bars.

Despite a series of reforms to Mexico's political system and financial regulations, the administration has done little to address deep-rooted problems in Mexico's judicial system, which has long been criticized for being slow-moving and opaque.

In a sign of the system's opacity, an official with Mexico's Federal Judicial Council, which oversees the entire Mexican federal justice system, said authorities there were unaware of one of the pending cases against Guzman until Tuesday's ruling. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Guzman has been notified of the first judge's decision and has three days to appeal, according to Judicial Council.

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Katherine Corcoran in Mexico City contributed to this report.

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Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein

Topics: Drug War-Mexico

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