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Leading extradition lawyers suspect that El Chapo may have ordered judge's execution

Were Vicente Antonio Bermudez Zacaruas’ recent extradition trials the cause of his death?

Leading extradition lawyers have suggested that the recent death of federal Judge Vicente Antonio Bermudez Zacaruas could be an attempt by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán in order to avoid extradition to the United States. Vicente Antonio Bermudez Zacaruas was shot whilst out jogging on the 17th October 2016. The Federal Judge was close to his house in Metepec, just west of Mexico City.

Zacarus, 37, was shot in the back of his head at point blank range. The gunman fled the scene and Zacarus was rushed to hospital where he died. President Enrique Pena Nieto has condemned the murder and went on to order the office of the Attorney General to take over the investigation and find the individuals who are responsible.

Zacarus had been a district court judge since 2013. He was serving in the Fifth Tribunal for appeals and civil judgement at the time of his demise. Zacarus had been the sitting judge in a number of high profile cases such as the tax fraud investigation of Naim Libien Kaui, a case against the drug cartel Los Cuinis and recently the extradition proceedings for Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

The Mexican Authorities have not yet found the culprits responsible for Zacarus’ murder and have highlighted there is no overwhelming motive linking anyone at this stage. Top extradition lawyers have however suggested a link between the murder and the timing of the Guzmán extradition proceedings. They noted how Guzmán’s cartel have shown willingness to execute and corrupt officials in previous attempts to aid prison escapes and suggested this was a similar scenario.

Luis Maria Aguilar Morales, Supreme Court President, has urged Mexican authorities to work harder in order to ensure the safety of judges. He went on to say that Federal judges are one pillar of the justice system who have continued to dedicate their lives to ensuring justice is served in Mexico. He believes that in order to guarantee the court system remains independent and judgements reflect that, the judges need to feel safe and protected.

Although the individual who killed Zacarus is still not known, attention quickly turned to the cartel figures whose cases had been decided by Zacarus. Zacarus tried individuals who have been linked to the Jalisco New Generation cartel, Zetas cartel and the Sinaloa cartel. The three cartels are notorious for their brutality and ability to “persuade” figures of authority.

It has been suggested that the federal judge knew he was in danger and so suspending Guzman’s extradition was a means of playing the middle ground between what Mexico wanted and what the Sinaloa cartel wanted. It had been further suggested that the Mexican officials had wanted to extradite Guzman as soon as possible as the administration would not survive a third escape. Guzman’s escape last week has once again highlighted the inefficiencies within the Mexican prison system, it will be a matter of time to see what happens next with the extradition case of Guzman.

Judges in Mexico are able to request protection from the Federal Judicial Council if they feel in danger or have received threats. In 2012, 21 Judges and magistrates applied for this protection and were assigned bodyguards. The Federal Judicial Council are unable to divulge to the public which Judges have asked for security assistance so although it has been hinted that the Federal Judge believed himself to be in danger it has not and cannot be confirmed whether Zacaruas had requested protection before his death.

Zacaruas’ death marked the first murder of a federal judge since 2006. However, lower level judges have continued to see a lot of violence and corruption during this period. It is hard to imagine the pressure on judges who are dealing with the trials of some of the worst cartels and drug lords in Mexican history. Judges wish to do their duty but understandably often feel in danger when they must preside over a trial of an individual such as Guzman or Abigail Gonzalez Valencia.

The assassination of the Federal Judge was caught on video. The murder occurred inside the gated community of Metepec. The video shows two men, one shot the Judge in the back of the head then the two disappeared off in a car. The judge’s injuries were severe, he was rushed to hospital and died soon after arriving. 

The federal judge had most recently suspended the extradition of Guzman to the United States. Guzman had been recaptured earlier this year and returned to prison. It is suggested by top extradition lawyers that the Sinaloa Cartel had not been happy with the speed at which Guzman’s extradition had been progressing and had wanted to delay it. The death of the Federal judge occurred in mid- October and last week Guzman escaped from prison a third time. The maximum security prison Guzman was residing in was supposed to have been unescapable. Guzman had been taken on a routine cell move in the early hours of 4th November. The two prison guards who had been escorting Guzman and Guzman himself then disappeared from prison grounds.

It has been suggested by leading extradition lawyers that Guzman’s escape had been planned since he was recaptured in January of 2016. The suggestion that the cartel used intimidation to delay the extradition knowing that time placed them in a favourable position to successfully complete the escape.

Although many have suggested Guzman and his cartel were behind the murder it is still yet to be determined if that is true. The judge had also very recently approved the extradition of Abigail Gonzalez Valencia. Valencia had not been considered a big player within the Mexican cartel scene until his arrest. Valencia supposedly offered soldiers three million dollars if his face was kept off the television during and after his arrest. The investigation into the death is ongoing with top extradition lawyers having different views on which suspect is most likely to have been behind the death.