Sean Penn’s foray into the world of gonzo journalism led directly to the capture of Mexico’s most wanted criminal, said the country’s attorney general on Monday, as leaked photographs appeared to show that the Hollywood star was under surveillance as he made his way to meet Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Mexico’s attorney general, Arely Gómez, said that Penn’s journey to the rugged Sierra Madre mountains was “essential” to tipping them off to the drug lord’s whereabouts, according to Reuters.
Her comments came after the Mexico City daily El Universal published a series of photographs that appeared to show Penn and the Mexican actor Kate del Castillo as they arrived in Guadalajara and prepared to fly on to the encounter.
Castillo, who had starred as a fictional cartel boss in a TV soap opera, was first approached by one of El Chapo’s lawyers in October 2014, with a request from the drug lord for advice on making a feature film based on his life, the newspaper said.
Castillo and the lawyer Andrés Grandos Flores then met in a Mexico City restaurant in July 2015, supposedly to discuss the payment of royalties and film rights, El Universal reported.
The next time they met – in Guadalajara on 25 September – Guzmán’s legal team gave Del Castillo a “special” telephone, with which she could contact Guzmán directly, said the newspaper, citing a Mexican intelligence report.
Del Castillo returned to Guadalajara on 2 October, this time with Penn. Photographs in El Universal show Penn, wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap, meeting a group of men who took him and Del Castillo to an airstrip in Nayarit state from where they flew in a small aeroplane to El Chapo’s jungle camp in the municipality of Cosalá, in Sinaloa.
According to a report by the broadcaster Televisa, Guzmán initially eluded capture through a reinforced door hidden behind a mirror, and descending into a tunnel leading to the city’s drains.
The marines took 90 minutes to find the opening mechanism for the concealed door, which was hidden in a dressing room light. Items found inside the house included DVDs of La Reina del Sur, a soap opera about a female cartel boss which starred Del Castillo.
Penn’s rambling account of his meeting with the fugitive drug lord appeared on Rolling Stone’s website on Saturday.
Penn has been widely criticised for meeting Guzmán – and giving him copy approval for the Rolling Stone article – but on Monday he expressed no regrets over the episode, telling the Associated Press: “I’ve got nothin’ to hide.”
On Sunday night, Interpol said it had begun the process to extradite Guzmán to the United States, though Mexican authorities admit the process will proceed slowly, giving the recaptured cartel kingpin at least another year in the same high-security prison he once escaped from.
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