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Mexican drug kingpin Guzman dodges U.S. extradition for now

 Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman
Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman

By Anahi Rama

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman won a temporary injunction to block his extradition to the United States where he faces narcotics and arms trafficking charges, a federal judge ruled on Tuesday.

Guzman, who was Mexico's most wanted criminal and boss of the feared Sinaloa Cartel, was caught in the beach resort of Mazatlan with help from U.S. agents in a pre-dawn raid on Saturday.

The dramatic capture brought to a close his time as one of the world's most notorious organized crime bosses, and was a major victory for the Mexican government in a long, brutal war that has killed more than 80,000 people since 2007.

The day after Guzman's arrest, the spokesman for a U.S. federal prosecutor said he planned to seek the capo's extradition to face trial in the United States, but it is still unclear whether that will happen, and extradition proceedings can take years to complete.

On Monday, Guzman's lawyers filed an injunction to block any move to extradite him to the United States. The injunction was approved on Tuesday but it remains unclear how long it will last, raising the possibility that the drug lord could remain in Mexico for a while.

"As long as the judge presides over the legal process, he can't be extradited," a court official who spoke on the condition of anonymity said.

Jesus Murillo, Mexico's attorney general, said on Tuesday that Guzman's potential extradition will be analyzed by the government, but that he does not expect a quick resolution.

"I do not think it will happen soon," Murillo said in a radio interview.

Mexico's top prosecutor added that he received a phone call on Monday from his counterpart in the United States, Attorney General Eric Holder, who he said mentioned the possibility of extraditing Guzman.

Past extradition cases have dragged on for years.

Due to widespread corruption in the ranks of Mexico's court system and police, many major drug traffickers have been turned over to face U.S. prosecution and imprisonment.

In 2007, suspected Sinaloa trafficker Sandra Avila, also known as "the Queen of the Pacific," was arrested in Mexico but was not extradited until five years later.

After she pleaded guilty in the United States and was jailed for a year, Avila was returned to Mexico last year where she was tried again and imprisoned a second time.

Guzman, 56, is being held in the Altiplano prison in the State of Mexico, outside the capital. He gave a brief statement to a judge on Sunday, and is being kept in a cell alone in a maximum security area.

Guzman escaped from a Mexican prison in 2001, where he continued to lead his lucrative drug-running business, with the help of some of his jailers.

The United States had a $5 million bounty on Guzman's head. His cartel has smuggled billions of dollars of cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States, and fought brutal turf wars with other gangs across Mexico.

In addition to facing multiple criminal charges in Mexico, Guzman also faces charges in Illinois, New York and Texas.

(Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Gabriel Stargardter, Simon Gardner and Lisa Shumaker)

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