Mexico denies claim that captured drug kingpin 'El Chapo' made visits to the US when he was on the run

Recaptured drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman being escorted by soldiers in Mexico, on Jan 8, 2016.
Recaptured drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman being escorted by soldiers in Mexico, on Jan 8, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

MEXICO CITY (AFP) - Mexico's government sought on Monday (March 7) to counter a PR offensive by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, vowing to maintain his tough prison conditions and denying claims that the drug kingpin had sneaked into the US while on the run.

Guzman's relatives and lawyers have given a series of interviews in recent weeks, claiming that the authorities were mistreating him and putting his health at risk by waking him up in the middle of the night.

"The government warns that there is an open media strategy by this individual, his defense team and other people," National Security Commissioner Renato Sales told a hastily arranged news conference.

"We will not cede to speculations whose only goal is to divert attention and victimize this person to soften his surveillance."

Mr Sales defended the measures taken by the government to prevent the Sinaloa drug cartel leader from escaping prison for a third time, saying that the law allows the authorities to implement special security for organized crime suspects.

A guard wearing a camera on a helmet is permanently posted outside his cell, the authorities wake him up every four hours to ensure he is still alive, and they regularly move him to new sleeping quarters without warning.

"We can't forget that Joaquin Guzman Loera has deeply harmed our society," Mr Sales said.

Guzman humiliated President Enrique Pena Nieto's administration when he escaped in July through a hole in his cell's shower, which led to a 1.5km tunnel. He was recaptured on Jan 8 in his home state of Sinaloa.

Mr Sales also rejected claims made by a woman identified as one of Guzman's daughters, Rosa Isela Guzman Ortiz, a California resident who was interviewed by the Guardian newspaper.

She told the London-based daily that the capo visited relatives in the United States twice while he was on the lam and that he was protected by corrupt Mexican officials.

"These are allegations that lack supporting evidence, whose only goal is to discredit the institutions," Mr Sales said in the first official response to the report.

The Guardian said it had verified her identity, but the Mexican attorney general's office said it was working to confirm if she is really Guzman's daughter.

Prosecutors said they would nevertheless investigate the woman's claims.

Guzman's lawyer said last week that his client's prison conditions have become so unbearable that he now wants to be extradited to the United States as soon as possible.

But Mr Jose Manuel Merino, a senior official at the attorney general's office, told a news conference that the government was not aware of any such bid by Guzman.