A secretive meeting that Hollywood star Sean Penn orchestrated with Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman in a jungle hideout late last year helped Mexico’s government catch the world’s most wanted drug lord, Reuters reported, citing unnamed people with knowledge of the matter.
The 58-year-old boss of the Sinaloa drug cartel was arrested in northwestern Mexico on Friday morning, and sent back to the prison he broke out of in July through a mile-long tunnel that led straight into his cell.
Mexico aims to extradite Guzman to the United States as soon as possible.
Penn’s rare access to the capo was assisted by Mexican actress Kate del Castillo.
They were driven some of the way to the hideout by Guzman’s son, who the Hollywood star says was waved on by soldiers when they apparently recognized him.
Another leg of the day-long trip through central Mexico to meet Guzman was on a light aircraft allegedly fitted with equipment to evade radar detection, Penn said in a story published in Rolling Stone magazine on Saturday.
Penn said in the article that he was sure the Mexican government and the US Drug Enforcement Administration were tracking him.
Two senior Mexican government sources told Reuters they were indeed aware of the October meeting and monitored his movements.
That helped lead them days later to a ranch where Guzman was staying, one of the sources said. Mexican forces used helicopter gunships to attack Guzman’s ranch during a siege that lasted days, the news agency said.
The kingpin narrowly escaped, with what he told Del Castillo was a minor leg injury, but the raid in the northern state of Durango was a major breakthrough in the manhunt.
Guzman was finally recaptured on Friday in the northern city of Los Mochis after a bloody action movie-like shootout.
Mexican marines pursued the wily kingpin through storm drains before intercepting his getaway in a hijacked car.
In Washington, the Obama administration criticized Penn’s interview with the drug lord.
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough told CNN: “One thing I will tell you is that this braggadocious action about how much heroin he sends around the world, including the United States, is maddening.
“We see a heroin epidemic, an opioid addiction epidemic, in this country… But El Chapo’s behind bars – that’s where he should stay.”
In the seven-hour interview, Guzman said he was the world’s leading supplier of heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana, BBC News reported.
The interview came about after Guzman became interested in making a movie of his life when he was inundated with requests from US movie studios following his 2014 capture, Reuters quoted Del Castillo as saying.
Guzman’s lawyer approached Del Castillo about the possibility of making a film, but the project was dropped in favor of a magazine interview, Penn said.
Penn unsuccessfully tried to set up a formal follow-up interview. Instead, as Mexican security forces closed in on Guzman, Penn and Del Castillo persuaded him to film a 17-minute tape answering prewritten questions, and ship them the footage.
The video clips show the drug lord in a colorful shirt and black cap at a different hideout, musing about his contribution to the narcotics trade and US consumption. Rolling Stone called it the drug lord’s first-ever interview outside an interrogation.
McDonough would not comment on any repercussions for Penn.
The meeting was made possible because Guzman struck up an unlikely friendship with Del Castillo, who herself played a Mexican drug queen in a well-known TV soap.
Mexican Attorney General Arely Gomez on Friday said that the drug boss’s yearning for the silver screen had helped bring him down.
“Another important aspect that helped locate him was discovering Guzman’s intention to have a biographical film made. He contacted actresses and producers, which was part of one line of investigation,” Gomez said.
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