Sean Penn interview helps nab Mexican drug kingpin
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, sources said.
The infamous boss of the Sinaloa drug cartel was arrested in north-west Mexico on Friday and sent back to the prison he broke out of in July last year through a 1.6km-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.
The Hollywood star says the son was waved on by soldiers when they apparently recognised him.
Another leg of the day-long trip through central Mexico 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.
And two senior Mexican government sources said they were indeed aware of the October meeting and monitored his movements.
Days later, that helped lead them to a ranch where Guzman was staying, one of the sources said. Mexican forces used helicopter gunships to attack the ranch during a siege that lasted days.
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, movie-like shoot-out.
Mexican marines pursued the wily kingpin through storm drains before intercepting his getaway in a hijacked car.
Penn's seven-hour encounter with Guzman came about after the latter became interested in making a movie of his life.
He was inundated with requests from US movie studios following his 2014 capture, the film star said.
Guzman's lawyer approached Del Castillo about the possibility of making a film but the project was dropped in favour of a magazine interview, Penn said.
The encounter adds a new twist to the long and larger-than-life career of Guzman whose nickname "Chapo" means "shorty" in Spanish.
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 pre-written questions and ship them the footage.
The video clips show the drug lord in a colourful 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.
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.
The meeting with Penn and Del Castillo yielded insight into how Chapo may have continued to conduct business while he was incarcerated. Penn said some of Guzman's henchmen were certified as lawyers to allow them access to the boss while he was in prison.
Guzman, who has escaped from prison twice, said he did not believe that his business had been affected by his last spell in prison.
Penn said Guzman proudly declared that "I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world. I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats".
One Mexican government source said authorities were considering whether to investigate Penn and Del Castillo, possibly for money laundering.
The source did not explain further.