Mexico says authorities helped drug lord Guzmán escape

Reward of €3.5m for information leading to Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán's capture

Mexican police and security are on high alert after drug kingpin El Chapo Guzman stages brazen jailbreak in blow to President Enrique Pena Nieto. Video: Reuters


Mexican authorities must have colluded with Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán to enable the country’s top drug lord to escape from a maximum security prison at the weekend, Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said on Monday.

Guzmán sparked a massive manhunt after escaping from Altiplano prison on Saturday night in a mile-long underground tunnel that led from his cell into a deserted building, dealing a bitter blow for Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto.

Guzmán “had to have“ had help to escape from prison officials, Mr Osorio Chong said, adding that he had fired the head of Altiplano and two other officials in the penal system.

“There will be no rest for this criminal,“ the minister told a news conference in Mexico City, vowing to recapture Guzmán and rejecting suggestions that he should resign.

Mexico’s attorney general Arely Gomez said authorities would offer 60 million pesos (€3.5 million) for information leading to Guzmán’s capture.

The interior minister, who is Mexico’s top public official while Mr Pena Nieto is in France for a state visit, gave additional details on Guzmán’s daring getaway, his second from a high security lockup in less than 15 years.

Although the drug lord was under constant video surveillance, there were two blind spots where, to protect his privacy, he could not be seen, Mr Osorio Chong said.

During the escape, Guzmán disposed of a bracelet that only he and a few other high-risk inmates had to wear, and smashed bulbs lighting up the tunnel as he fled, the minister added.

Malcolm Beith, a biographer of the drug lord, said Guzmán’s allies probably obtained details on the facility’s layout.

“I can only imagine Chapo or someone in his circle was given the blueprints of the prison,” he said.

‘Impossible to escape’

Two soldiers and one policeman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the alarm was not raised over Guzmán’s disappearance until after 10pm, more than an hour after the government said he was last seen at 8.52 pm.

Elena Azaola, a prison expert at research centre CIESAS, noted that the building that housed Guzmán met international standards of a high security penitentiary.

“It’s impossible to escape from that prison without total complicity from the authorities and/or guards,“ she said.

El Chapo was one of the world’s most notorious crime bosses, running the powerful Sinaloa Cartel for years.

In 2001, Guzmán bribed guards to help him escape from a prison near the city of Guadalajara after a previous arrest in 1993. He was recaptured in northwestern Mexico in February 2014.

Mr Osorio Chong said Mexico’s security forces would redouble their efforts against the Sinaloa cartel and spare no expense to recapture Guzmán. He added that Mr Gomez had been in touch with her US counterpart, Loretta Lynch, and that the United States had expressed its willingness to cooperate in arresting Guzmán.

Mexico was also in touch with Guatemala and Belize, and Interpol had put out an alert for Guzmán in more than 100 countries, the minister added.