FILE PHOTO: Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers during a presentation in Mexico City, January 8, 2016. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo/File photo - RTX2EKM4(reuters_tickers)
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico expects to extradite captured drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to the United States at the outset of 2017, a top government official said on Friday, despite ongoing appeals by lawyers to block his departure.
Guzman, boss of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, was arrested by Mexican police in the northern city of Los Mochis in January after breaking out of a maximum security prison through a tunnel dug right into his cell six months earlier.
It was Guzman's second jailbreak in less than 15 years, and President Enrique Pena Nieto swiftly pledged to extradite him.
However, the process has proven more laborious than some senior officials had suggested as the kingpin's lawyers seek to prevent his removal to the United States through appeals.
National Security Commissioner Renato Sales provided the clearest indication of a departure date for Guzman on Friday, saying he expected the matter to be resolved soon.
"We expect (Guzman's extradition) in January or February," Sales told local television.
Responding to Sales' remarks, Jose Refugio Rodriguez, an attorney for Guzman, said far too many appeals were pending for extradition to take place that quickly.
"That's not enough time," Refugio said, adding that the only way to send Guzman to the United States by early 2017 would be "to take him out (of jail) by force."
A Mexican judge ruled in May that Guzman could be extradited to the United States where he faces charges including money laundering, drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder.
(Reporting by Veronica Gomez, Lizbeth Diaz and Natalie Schachar; Editing by Alexandra Alper and Jeffrey Benkoe)