Drug Lord ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán Located Thanks to Interview With Sean Penn

January 10, 2016 Updated: January 10, 2016
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MEXICO CITY—Mexican officials say Sean Penn’s contacts with drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán helped them track the fugitive down—even if he slipped away from an initial raid on the hideout where the Hollywood actor apparently met him.

Penn’s article on Guzmán was published late Saturday, Jan. 9, by Rolling Stone magazine, a day after Mexican marines captured the world’s most wanted kingpin in a raid on the city of Los Mochis near the Gulf of California.

Penn wrote of elaborate security precautions, but also said that as he flew to Mexico on Oct 2 for the meeting, “I see no spying eyes, but I assume they are there.”

He was apparently right.

A Mexican federal law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to comment on the issue, told The Associated Press the Penn interview led authorities to Guzmán in the area of Tamazula, a rural part of Durango state.

Investigators had been aided in locating Guzmán by documented contacts between his attorneys and ‘actors and producers’ she said were interested in making a film about him.

They raided Guzmán’s remote hideout a few days after the interview and narrowly missed capturing Guzmán, whose July escape from Mexico’s top security prison—through a mile-long (1.5-kilometer) tunnel—had embarrassed President Enrique Peña Nieto and made his capture a national priority.

Describing the capture, Attorney General Arely Gómez said that investigators had been aided in locating Guzmán by documented contacts between his attorneys and “actors and producers” she said were interested in making a film about him, though she did not name them.

Two months after that close call, marines finally caught him in a residential neighborhood of Los Mochis, where they’d been monitoring a suspected safe house. Five people died in a gun battle as troops moved in.

In the interview, Guzmán defends his work at the head of the world’s biggest drug trafficking organization, one blamed for thousands of killings. When asked if he is to blame for high addiction rates, he responds: “No, that is false, because the day I don’t exist, it’s not going to decrease in any way at all. Drug trafficking? That’s false.”

He was interested in seeing the story of his life told on film.
— Sean Penn, actor

Penn wrote that Guzmán was interested in having a movie filmed on his life and wanted Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who had portrayed a drug trafficker in a television series, involved in the project.

“He was interested in seeing the story of his life told on film, but would entrust its telling only to Kate,” wrote Penn, who appears in a photo posted with the interview shaking hands with Guzmán whose face is uncovered.

There was no immediate response from representatives for either Penn or del Castillo to the Mexican official’s comments.

Earlier Saturday, a federal law enforcement official said that Mexico is willing to extradite Guzmán to the United States—a move authorities had ruled out before his July escape.

“Mexico is ready. There are plans to cooperate with the U.S.,” said the Mexican official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to comment.

But he cautioned that it could take at least six months to approve extradition through courts, where Guzmán’s attorneys can battle a move to the United States, where he faces drug trafficking charges in several states.

“That can take weeks or months, and that delays the extradition,” he said. “We’ve had cases that take six years.”

Guzmán’s attorney Juan Pablo Badillo told the Milenio newspaper that the defense already has filed six motions to challenge extradition requests.

“They can challenge the judge, challenge the probable cause, challenge the procedure,” said Juan Masini, former U.S. Department of Justice attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico. “That’s why it can take a long time. They won’t challenge everything at once … they can drip, drip, milk it that way.”

According to a statement from the Mexican Attorney General’s office, the United States filed extradition requests on June 25, 2015, while Guzmán was in custody, and another on Sep. 3, after he escaped. The Mexican government determined they were valid within the extradition treaty and sent them to a panel of federal judges, who gave orders for detention on July 29 and Sept. 8, after Guzmán had escaped.

Those orders were not for extradition but just for Guzmán to begin the extradition hearing process. Now that he is recaptured, Mexico has to start processing the extradition requests anew, according to the law.