The Mexican government ignored clear warnings that the nation’s most notorious criminal, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, planned to escape from the maximum-security Altiplano prison long before his eventual flight in July, according to an in-depth investigation published this week by Mexico’s Proceso news magazine.
Federal authorities failed to prevent Guzmán’s escape through a mile-long tunnel leading out of his cell on July 11, despite receiving a constant stream of information about the Sinaloa Cartel boss’ activities while behind bars, according to intelligence reports leaked to Proceso through the WikiLeaks-style whistleblowing platform Méxicoleaks.
Insight Crime, a site that monitors organized crime in the Americas, noted that the leaked information points to one of two possibilities: “a massive institutional failure to act on intelligence or corruption that reaches even higher up the chain than previously suspected.”
Officials knew Guzmán sought prison blueprints
The leaked files demonstrate that federal police knew that Guzmán was using his lawyers, other inmates and even officials from Mexico’s Interior Ministry in a bid to obtain maps and photographs detailing the layout of the prison. This information was passed on to the heads of the Interior Ministry and the National Security Commission, but there is no evidence that the warnings were acted upon.
The documents reveal that from September 5, 2014 to the eve of Guzmán’s escape, Mexico’s federal police received 249 emails about him from those tasked with monitoring his activities behind bars.
The leaked information also indicates that one of Guzmán’s lawyers, who has filed injunctions to protect himself against accusations that he aided the escape, probably attempted to bribe officials in order to secure special privileges for his client during his incarceration.
At least 30 suspects have been arrested in connection with Guzmán’s escape, including police officers, guards and the prison warden, yet there have been no charges against senior members of government.
Guzmán received visitors almost daily
Mexico’s most infamous prisoner, Guzmán was a known flight risk, having previously escaped from the maximum-security Puente Grande in 2001. He was eventually recaptured in Mazatlán, Sinaloa in February 2014.
His second spell in prison lasted just 477 days but during that time he was reportedly received 386 visits: 272 by his lawyers, 68 by family members and 46 by his wife, the former beauty queen Emma Coronel. This meant he was in direct contact with the outside world throughout 80 percent of his incarceration.
This constant communication ensured Guzmán was able to maintain control of the Sinaloa Cartel while behind bars. While locked up he reportedly even secured a alliance with members of Los Zetas, a fierce rival cartel, with the aim of exploring common interests and reducing the level of violence across Mexico.
One of Guzmán’s many visitors was Devany Vianey Villatoro López, a state congresswoman for the conservative National Action Party (PAN) in Sinaloa. She is one of seven women to have born Guzmán’s 18 children, according to the leaked documents.
Where in the world is El Chapo?
Earlier this month officials in Argentina investigated an anonymous tip that Guzmán may have been hiding out near the border with Chile, but they have since dismissed the reports and ruled out any possibility that he is in either country.
The fugitive kingpin is widely believed to be hiding out in the mountainous region known as the “Golden Triangle” that spans the states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua, where he was reportedly wounded during a failed attempt to recapture him last month.
Having escaped prison twice, appeared on Forbes’ rich list, and amassed an estimated billion-dollar fortunate, Guzmán has become an iconic figure in popular culture in Mexico, where “El Chapo” costumes were among the most popular outfits on sale this Halloween.
Intriguingly, the information published this week corroborates reports that Guzmán was working on an official biography during his first few months in prison — presumably with some outside help given that he is known to be barely literate. Should the book ever be finished, it is surely guaranteed bestseller status.