Latin America & Caribbean

Mexico: Penn meeting was 'essential to Chapo's capture'

Actor Sean Penn (left) shakes hands with Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman in Mexico, in this undated Rolling Stone handout photo obtained by Reuters on January 10, 2016. Image copyright Rolling Stone
Image caption The Mexican Attorney General said the meeting between Penn and Guzman was "essential" in tracking Guzman down

Mexico's Attorney General has said that the meeting between Hollywood actor Sean Penn and fugitive cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman had been an "essential" element in his arrest.

The actor interviewed Mexico's most wanted drug lord in October in northern Durango state, at a meeting organised by Mexican actress Kate del Castillo.

The security forces came close to catching Guzman shortly afterwards.

They finally arrested him on Friday in a raid in which five people died.

Attorney General Arely Gomez said the security forces had been following Guzman's lawyer, who led them to Sean Penn and Mexican actress Kate del Castillo.

El Chapo's capture - in depth

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Guzman was hiding in a safe house in Los Mochis, but managed to escape through a tunnel

Who is 'El Chapo' Guzman? - The crime lord had humble beginnings.

Who is Kate del Castillo? - Actress was instrumental in arranging the interview

Did Sean Penn break the law? - Unusual interview raises questions in the US and Mexico

Penn's 'El Chapo' interview scorned - It has been called "grotesque" and "maddening"

El Chapo extradition 'could take year' - American officials want Joaquin Guzman back in the US.

Kate del Castillo had been contacted by Guzman's lawyers years earlier after she had addressed Guzman in an open letter asking him to stop trafficking in drugs and start "trafficking in love" instead.

Ms Gomez said that following his escape from a maximum-security jail in July, Guzman again contacted del Castillo through his lawyers to ask her to produce a film about his life.

Del Castillo has not commented but in an article for Rolling Stone magazine, Penn said the actress had put him in contact with the fugitive drug lord.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Kate del Castillo arranged the meeting between Penn and Guzman, according to Penn's article
Image copyright Katy Watson
Image caption Officials showed off DVDs of the TV series starring Kate del Castillo which they said they found in Guzman's hideout

They both then travelled to a remote mountain hideout where Penn proceeded to interview Guzman.

Ms Gomez said that meeting had provided them with important intelligence and helped them track down the fugitive.

"It was an essential element, because we were following [Guzman's] lawyer, and the lawyer took us to these people and to this meeting," she told local radio.

Mexican newspaper El Universal published photographs on Monday which suggest Penn and del Castillo were under surveillance by the authorities at the time.

The Associated Press news agency asked Penn if he was worried about the images. He wrote back in an email, saying: "I've got nothin' to hide".

Final chase

Guzman's escape in July 2015 - his second from a maximum-security jail - was a major embarrassment for the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto.

But on Monday, the authorities proudly showed journalists around the house Guzman had been hiding in in Los Mochis.

Katy Watson, BBC Mundo: At the scene in Los Mochis

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionKaty Watson was shown a hidden 'wardrobe tunnel' in the house El Chapo had been staying before his recapture

It feels like a voyeuristic journalism package holiday. The marines flew us here and showed us around the house that the feared criminal escaped from.

"Over there you can see how the cans burst from the force of the grenades," an official from the attorney general's office pointed out in the kitchen.

Image copyright Katy Watson
Image caption The house in which Guzman was hiding was torn apart in the raid

"And over here, this was the spot where the second person died," he said pointing to a patch of blood measuring about two metres by two metres.

In one room was a walk-in wardrobe with a floor-length mirror. You would never have guessed it was actually a door, but behind it was a narrow set of stairs leading to a tunnel.

It was through this tunnel that Guzman managed to escape. But this time it was not for long, as the marines got wise to his signature escape route and hunted him down a few hours later on a nearby highway.

President Enrique Pena Nieto praised the security forces for the arrest of "the world's most wanted criminal" in a brief televised speech on Monday.

"With this action, 98 of the 122 most dangerous criminals no longer pose a risk to society," he said. "We're going after all of them!"

More on this story