By Dave Graham
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -Ovidio Guzman, a son of imprisoned Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, was extradited to the United States on Friday to face fentanyl trafficking charges, in a boost for the Biden administration’s push to curb the spread of the deadly opioid.
U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Ovidio Guzman’s extradition was the latest step in American efforts to attack “every aspect” of the drug trafficking operations run by the Sinaloa Cartel long associated with the Guzman family.
“I am also grateful to our Mexican government counterparts for this extradition,” Garland said in a statement.
“The Justice Department will continue to hold accountable those responsible for fueling the opioid epidemic that has devastated too many communities across the country.”
Two Mexican officials familiar with the matter also confirmed the extradition of the 33-year-old Guzman.
One of the heirs to his father’s trafficking empire, Guzman was briefly arrested in the northern city of Culiacan in 2019 but released on the orders of President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to avoid bloodshed when his cartel struck back.
He was captured in January after an intense firefight in the northern Mexican state of Sinaloa.
U.S. officials have portrayed Guzman and a number of his brothers as the face of the threat posed by fentanyl, a highly addictive poison that kills nearly 200 Americans daily. That death toll has piled pressure on the Biden administration and caused diplomatic strains between the U.S. and Mexico.
The U.S. government requested Guzman’s extradition in February so he could face drugs charges in a U.S. court.
Extradition proceedings of prominent Mexican drug traffickers can take years. The removal of Ovidio Guzman was even quicker than that of his father, who was flown to the U.S. barely a year after his final arrest in Sinaloa in early 2016.
Several Mexican media, including news network Milenio, earlier reported that Guzman had been taken out of a maximum security prison in central Mexico to be flown across the border.
According to U.S. court documents, Guzman and his brothers allegedly controlled extensive international operations in the fentanyl trade, reaping hundreds of millions of dollars in profits by “flooding” the United States with the drug.
Their bet on the synthetic opioid 50 times more powerful than heroin helped intensify an opioid epidemic that put them in the sights of U.S. anti-narcotics agents.
The State Department has been offering a reward worth millions of dollars for information leading to the arrest or conviction or Ovidio Guzman and three of his brothers.
His father, “El Chapo” Guzman, rose to prominence at the helm of the Sinaloa Cartel. He was extradited to the United States in 2017 after twice escaping from prison in Mexico. The elder Guzman is now at a high-security “Supermax” lock-up in Colorado.
(Reporting by Dave Graham; Additional reporting by Drazen Jorgic in Mexico City, Kanishka Singh in Washington and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by William Mallard)