U.S. lifts sanctions on senior figure in Mexico's Sinaloa cartel

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FILE PHOTO: Recaptured drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers at the hangar belonging to the office of the Attorney General in Mexico City

(Reuters) -The United States lifted financial sanctions on a top lieutenant of Mexico's Sinaloa drug cartel on Wednesday, saying Jesus "El Rey" Zambada, who gave testimony against kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, had shown behavioral change.

Information published by the U.S. Treasury Department said that Zambada was removed from the sanctions list of the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

A department spokesman said Zambada was no longer engaged in sanctionable activities.

El Rey, or The King, was arrested in 2008 after a gunbattle in Mexico City, where he was suspected of controlling smuggling through the capital's international airport. He was extradited to the United States four years later.

El Rey demonstrated a change in behavior and circumstances, the spokesman said, adding that the primary goal of sanctions is behavioral change. A person could be re-designated should new evidence or circumstances merit, he said.

A U.S. law enforcement official declined to discuss Zambada's whereabouts or legal status, saying such information is not public.

Brother to the head of the Sinaloa cartel, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, El Rey was a witness at the trial in the United States of former cartel boss Guzman in 2019. El Mayo's son, Vicente Zambada, also testified.

The two witnesses had pleaded guilty to U.S. charges and agreed to testify against Guzman, accused of trafficking tons of cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine into the United States.

Guzman was convicted by a jury and is imprisoned in the United States.

The U.S. Bureau of Prisons has previously said El Rey is not in its custody, leading to speculation he may be in a witness protection program.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Mark Hosenball in Washington; writing by Cassandra Garrison in Mexico City; editing by Grant McCool)

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