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Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Extradited To U.S. Faces Life In Prison If Convicted Of Drug Trafficking Charges

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Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman will spend the rest of his life in a U.S. prison if convicted on charges he ran the world’s largest drug-trafficking organization during a decades-long criminal career, U.S. prosecutors said on Friday.

El Chapo, once one of the world’s most wanted drug lords, was set to appear at 2 p.m. EST (1900 GMT) in federal court in Brooklyn to be arraigned on 17 criminal counts, a day after his surprise extradition from Mexico.

The charges carry a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison, Robert Capers, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said at a news conference.

“Who is Chapo Guzman? In short, he’s a man known for no other life but a life of crime, violence, death and destruction, and now he’ll have to answer to that,” Capers said.

Guzman, 59, arrived in a small jet at Long Island’s MacArthur Airport after nightfall on Thursday from a prison in the city of Juarez in the northern state of Chihuahua, where his Sinaloa cartel rules.

A few hours earlier, he was bundled out of the Mexican cell block with his hands cuffed above his bowed head, Mexican television footage showed.

Guzman is charged in six separate U.S. indictments. He is accused of money laundering and drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder in Chicago, Miami, New York and other cities.

Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn have more than 40 witnesses ready to testify against Guzman, Capers told reporters, adding that the trial will likely last “many” weeks.

U.S. prosecutors gave assurances to Mexican officials that El Chapo (Spanish for “Shorty”) would not be executed in order to secure his extradition, Capers said. Mexico opposes capital punishment.

One of Guzman’s lawyers was surprised at the extradition, saying that four appeals in Mexico were outstanding to stop it.

Leading the Sinaloa cartel, El Chapo oversaw perhaps the world’s largest transnational cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine smuggling operation, playing a key role in Mexico’s decade-long drug war that has killed over 100,000 people.

“Guzman and the Sinaloa cartel had a veritable army, ready to war with competitors and anyone Guzman deemed to be a traitor,” U.S. prosecutors said. He was known to carry a gold-plated AK-47 rifle.

He was captured a year ago after he had fled a high-security penitentiary in central Mexico through a mile-long tunnel, his second dramatic prison escape.

U.S. authorities, citing security concerns, declined to say where he would be held while awaiting trial, but they vowed to prevent any further escapes.

“I assure you, no tunnel will be built leading to his bathroom,” Special Agent In Charge Angel Melendez of U.S. Homeland Security Investigations said at the news conference.

(Writing by Alexandra Alper and David Ingram; Additional reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Richard Borsuk and Jeffrey Benkoe)

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