Penn's interview 'aided in capture'

US actor Sean Penn with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera in a photo taken while the latter was in hiding after his escape from prison. The secret interview was published online by Rolling Stone on Saturday.
US actor Sean Penn with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera in a photo taken while the latter was in hiding after his escape from prison.PHOTO: ROLLING STONE

MEXICO CITY - A secretive meeting that Hollywood star Sean Penn orchestrated with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera in a jungle hideout late last year helped Mexico's government catch the world's most wanted drug lord, sources have said.

Mr Penn's rare access to the "capo", or crime boss, was assisted by Mexican actress Kate del Castillo. They were driven some of the way to the hideout by Guzman's son, who the Hollywood star says was waved on by soldiers.

The Mexican authorities became aware of the meeting last October and monitored Mr Penn's movements. This helped to lead them to a ranch where the fugitive was staying, two government sources said.

Another leg of the day-long trip through central Mexico was on a light aircraft allegedly fitted with equipment to evade radar detection, Mr Penn said, adding however he was sure Mexico's government and the US Drug Enforcement Administration were tracking him.

Mr Penn's seven-hour meeting with Guzman, 58, believed to be the first he gave in decades, was published online by Rolling Stone magazine last Saturday, with a video. It also published a picture, dated Oct 2, showing the actor shaking hands with Guzman. It marked another surreal turn in the long and larger- than-life career of Guzman, whose nickname "Chapo" means "Shorty".

CLAIMS HE'S NOT VIOLENT

Look, all I do is defend myself, nothing more. But do I start trouble? Never.

JOAQUIN "EL CHAPO" GUZMAN LOERA

The interview came about after Guzman became interested in making a movie of his life when he was inundated with requests from US movie studios, the film star said.

The interview was held in a jungle clearing atop a mountain at an undisclosed location. Surrounded by over 100 cartel troops, Guzman sat down to dinner with Mr Penn and Ms Del Castillo, who once played a drug kingpin herself in a soap opera, according to Rolling Stone.

Guzman told the actor he started out in business at age six, selling oranges and soft drinks. By 15, he began to grow marijuana and poppies because there was no other way for his family to survive. And in a stunning admission, he continued unapologetically: "I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world. I have a fleet of submarines, airplanes, trucks and boats."

Although his fortune has come with a trail of blood, he does not consider himself violent. "Look, all I do is defend myself, nothing more," he said. "But do I start trouble? Never."

Mr Penn unsuccessfully tried to set up a formal follow-up interview. Instead, he and Ms Del Castillo persuaded Guzman to film a 17-minute tape answering pre-written questions, and ship them the footage.

The video clips show the drug lord at a different hideout. Rolling Stone called it his first interview outside an interrogation. "It's a reality that drugs destroy," Guzman says. "Unfortunately... where I grew up there was no other way and there still isn't a way to survive."

On his responsibility for the prevalence of narcotics, he said: "The day I don't exist, it's not going to decrease in any way at all."

REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2016, with the headline 'Penn's interview 'aided in capture''. Print Edition | Subscribe