The recapture of Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman took a surprise Hollywood twist when it emerged security forces located the whereabouts of the world’s most-wanted trafficker thanks to a secret interview with US actor Sean Penn.
Penn’s interview with Guzman, who has twice escaped from Mexican maximum security prisons, appeared on the website of Rolling Stone magazine.
It was purportedly held at an undisclosed hideout in Mexico in late 2015, several months before Guzman’s recapture on Friday in Los Mochis, Sinaloa, after six months on the run.
In the interview, Guzman defends his work at the head of the world’s biggest drug trafficking organisation.
When asked if he is to blame for high addiction rates, he responds: “No, that is false, because the day I don’t exist, it’s not going to decrease in any way at all. Drug trafficking? That’s false.”
In the article, Penn describes the elaborate security measures that he took ahead of the clandestine meeting. But apparently they were not enough.
A Mexican law enforcement official said it was the Penn interview that led the authorities to Guzman in a rural part of Durango state in October.
They decided not to open fire on Guzman at the time because he was with two women and a child.
He was able to escape, but they were able to later track him to a house in Los Mochis where Mexican marines captured him after a shoot-out that left five people dead.
The official said the meeting between Penn and Guzman was held in Tamazula, a community in Durango state that neighbours Sinaloa, home of Guzman’s drug cartel.
On Friday, Mexican attorney general Arely Gomez said that Guzman’s contact with actors and producers for a possible biopic helped give law enforcement a new lead on tracking and capturing the world’s most notorious drug kingpin.
In the Rolling Stone article, Penn wrote that Guzman was interested in having a film made about his life.
He said Guzman wanted Mexican actress Kate del Castillo, who facilitated the meeting between the men, involved in the project.
“He was interested in seeing the story of his life told on film, but would entrust its telling only to Kate,” wrote Penn, who appears in a photo posted with the interview shaking hands with Guzman whose face is uncovered
Meanwhile a senior law enforcement officer said Mexico is willing to extradite Guzman to the US, a sharp reversal from the official position after his last capture in 2014.
“Mexico is ready. There are plans to co-operate with the US,” said the official.
But he warned there could be a lengthy wait before US prosecutors can get their hands on Guzman: “You have to go through the judicial process, and the defence has its elements too.”
Guzman faces drug-trafficking charges in several US states.
In the interview Penn, reminding Guzman of the gun battle that killed another famous drug lord, Colombia’s Pablo Escobar, asked him how he sees his final days in the drug business.
“I know one day I will die,” Guzman said. “I hope it’s of natural causes.”