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Mexico extradites key lieutenant of drug kingpin ‘El Chapo’ to US

Damaso Lopez was a former security official in Sinaloa state who rose to become one of the leaders of the cartel, authorities say.

FILE: Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman. Picture: AFP.

MEXICO CITY - Mexico extradited to the United States on Friday a senior lieutenant of the Sinaloa Cartel drug gang formerly headed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the attorney general’s office said.

Damaso Lopez, known as “The Graduate” because of his higher education studies, was a former security official in Sinaloa state who rose to become one of the leaders of the cartel, authorities say. He was arrested in Mexico City last year.

Mexico’s acting attorney general, Alberto Elias Beltran, said Lopez was seen as an important witness in the case against Guzman, who was extradited to the United States in January 2017 to face drug trafficking and conspiracy charges.

Guzman’s trial is expected to begin later this year.

“He’s a key person as much as for the United States government as for the Mexican government,” Beltran told a local radio program. “We can bring to a good conclusion the process the United States is carrying out against Guzman Loera.”

Armed policemen led Lopez, handcuffed and wearing a tactical vest with “detainee” written on it, onto a plane at an airport in Ciudad Juarez, television images released by authorities showed.

At the time of Lopez’s arrest in May 2017, Mexican officials said he was believed to have been seeking an alliance with Guzman’s rival, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.

Lopez had played a role in orchestrating Guzman’s escape from prison in 2001 before joining the notorious crime group, officials have said.

US President Donald Trump has made security at the southern border an administration priority, arguing his plan to build a US-Mexico border wall would stem the flow of drugs into the United States.

He has also issued executive orders aiming to improve coordination between US law enforcement and their Mexican counterparts.

Mexico’s next president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who won by a landslide on Sunday and will take office in December, opposes the wall and has said he aims to stem drug trafficking by alleviating poverty and other root causes.

Trump and Lopez Obrador discussed security issues as well as trade and immigration in a phone call on Monday, amid tensions between the neighbours over those issues.

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