Mexican authorities confirmed that they kept a close eye on Sean Penn during his October 2015 meeting with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman for his Rolling Stone piece, which was published on Saturday, January 9, a day after the drug lord was captured at a safe house in Los Mochis, Sinaloa.
Authorities told the Associated Press on Sunday, January 10, hours after Penn’s interview with El Chapo was published on Rolling Stone, that the Oscar winner, 55, unwittingly aided in helping find the most wanted man in Mexico, 57.
An anonymous Mexican federal law enforcement official told the AP that Penn’s communication with El Chapo first brought authorities to the rural town of Tamazula in the state of Durango, the location of one of Guzman’s multiple hideout spots, where the two first met on October 2. Penn then conducted the interview by posing questions via a BBM device; El Chapo would respond through recorded videotape clips. The full 17-minute interview was posted on Monday, January 12.
In his Rolling Stone piece, Penn — who was required to go through great lengths to conceal traces leading to the famed criminal — wrote that he sensed he was being watched. “There is no question in my mind but that the DEA and the Mexican government are tracking our movements,” the Oscar winner said. “From the moment Kate [del Castillo, who orchestrated the meeting between El Chapo and Penn] had gone out on a limb with her tweet of January 2012 through the beginning of our encrypted negotiations to meet El Chapo, I had been bewildered by his willingness to risk our visit. If Kate was being surveilled, so must those named on any shared flight manifest. I see no spying eyes, but I assume they are there.”
A few days after Penn and El Chapo’s face-to-face meeting, authorities honed in on the remote hideout — but the drug lord narrowly evaded capture once again. Eventually, they were able to trace El Chapo to the seaside safe house in his native state of Sinaloa, where he operates the biggest cartel in Mexico, if not the world: the Sinaloa cartel.
Two months later, on Friday, January 8, Mexican marines narrowed in on a safe house in a residential neighborhood, where El Chapo was hiding out. A subsequent shoot-out took place, resulting in the deaths of five suspects. Six others were arrested, and one Mexican marine was injured.
El Chapo famously escaped from Mexico’s top maximum-security prison last July after digging a mile-long tunnel that led from his prison cell to the outside world. Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto was utterly embarrassed about El Chapo’s second escape from prison, and made the drug lord’s recapture a top priority for the country.
Penn, meanwhile, reiterated to the Associated Press early Monday, December 11, that he had no regrets about meeting with El Chapo for the piece. “I’ve got nothin’ to hide,” he wrote in an email to the AP.
The process for El Chapo to be extradited to the U.S. was started this weekend. He is currently being held at the maximum-security prison in Altiplano, Mexico.
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