'El Chapo' Guzmán is willing to plead guilty in the US -- but only under one big condition

Is Mexico Safer After El Chapo's Recapture?
Is Mexico Safer After El Chapo's Recapture?

Recently recaptured drug kingpin Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán is willing to plead guilty to drug-trafficking charges filed against him in the US — under one condition.

He doesn't want to go to a "high-security prison," José Refugio Rodríguez, one of Guzmán's lawyers, told Univision last week.

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Guzmán "suggested to me the possible option of reaching an agreement with the United States government to consent to the extradition," Rodríguez told Peniley Ramírez in an exclusive interview with Univision — his first time on camera in 36 years as a litigator.

Rodríguez said the jailed Sinaloa cartel chief "is willing to 'accept his culpability for the charges [that] the United States seeks."

"[We would ask for] favorable conditions in order to face legal proceedings in the United States ... Like? That he doesn't arrive at a maximum-security prison ... and [that he gets there] after the penalty is negotiated," Rodríguez told Univision.

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Elaborating on the conditions under which Guzmán would make this plea, Rodríguez told Univision that in order for Guzmán to "renounce [his] right to a defense in Mexico," he would ask for the following: that he not be "held in a maximum-security prison where he would not have contact with other inmates or where he would not see the light of the sun for more than an hour a day."

The request seems to refer to the conditions at the federal ADX prison, known as the supermax or the "Alcatraz of the Rockies," in Florence, Colorado, where, according to The New York Times:

"Inmates spend their days in 12-by-7-foot cells with thick concrete walls and double sets of sliding metal doors (with solid exteriors, so prisoners can't see one another). ... Prisoners in the general population are allotted a maximum of 10 hours of exercise a week outside their cells, alternating between solo trips to an indoor "gym" (a windowless cell with a single chin-up bar) and group visits to the outdoor rec yard (where each prisoner nonetheless remains confined to an individual cage).

The facility holds many of the US's most violent and well-known criminals in relative isolation.

K unit 2nd phae SDP outdoor rec 1
K unit 2nd phae SDP outdoor rec 1

Univision Investiga

Rodríguez's description also matches that of Jhon "Popeye" Vásquez, one of the surviving member's of the notorious Pablo Escobar's drug cartel.

In August, Vásquez said such conditions would not be tolerable "for a recalcitrant Mexican like El Chapo." However, Vásquez was also confident that it would take 16 to 18 months to find Guzmán (it took a little less than six) and that the drug lord would not be recaptured alive.

'He refused to give information'

Throughout the interview, published Friday, Guzmán's lawyer, Rodríguez, stressed that his client "would not be 'on his knees'" during a discussion with US prosecutors, because Guzmán "has many resources to combat extradition."

Recaptured drug lord Joaquin
Recaptured drug lord Joaquin

Univision Investiga

"We are going to work the extradition [process] so that the United States doesn't find a man prostrate on his knees, begging for help," Rodríguez told Univision. "So the American government sees that we have elements to win the extradition [case] in Mexico."

Rodríguez admitted that the possibility of negotiations with the US had not been addressed with any US official or agency.

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However, he did say that after Guzmán's arrest on January 8, Mexican prosecutors had asked the kingpin to reveal names of Mexican government officials who had been complicit with the Sinaloa cartel boss.

Many in Mexico and elsewhere have long suspected that Guzmán and his cartel had been acting with the support of elements within the Mexican government, the governing party of President Enrique Peña Nieto, the military or other security agencies, or some combination of all three.

"There's a lot of speculation out there that he's got a lot of information on corrupt [military] officials," and other public officials, Marcos Jiménez, a former US attorney for the Southern District of Florida, told Business Insider the day after Guzmán's recapture.

The Mexican government may offer Guzmán a deal that precludes extradition in exchange for information on corrupt officials, Jiménez added.

"I know that he was questioned on this point," Rodríguez said of his client, "and he refused to give information."

Watch Univision's exclusive interview (in Spanish) here.

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