Who is Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman?

Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers during a presentation at the hangar in Mexico City.
Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman is escorted by soldiers during a presentation at the hangar in Mexico City.PHOTO: REUTERS
A poster with the face of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, reading "Wanted, Again", is displayed at a newsstand in one of Mexico City's major bus terminals.
A poster with the face of Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, reading "Wanted, Again", is displayed at a newsstand in one of Mexico City's major bus terminals. PHOTO: AFP

With his daring underground escapes and ability to sneak narcotics under the US-Mexico border, Mexican drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman earned the nickname “The Lord of Tunnels”.

But his latest cat-and-mouse game with the authorities reached the end of the tunnel on Friday (Jan 8) when he was arrested in a military raid in Los Mochis, a coastal city in his native north-western state of Sinaloa.
 
He was sent back to Altiplano maximum-security prison, west of Mexico City, from where he escaped on July 11, 2015. That was his second prison escape in 14 years. 

Here's what you should know about the drug kingpin and his dramatic escapes.

Who is he?

1. Guzman, 58, is considered the world's most wanted drug lord. He runs the Sinaloa cartel, the most powerful and one of the most ruthless drug cartels in Mexico with an empire that stretches along the Pacific coast.

2. He was born to a family of farmers in Badiraguato, a Sinaloa town known as a cradle of drug traffickers. He dropped out of primary school to work in marijuana and opium poppy fields as drug consumption rose in the neighbouring United States.

3. He was later recruited by Guadalajara cartel boss Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, the chief-of-chiefs and a godfather of Mexico's modern drug cartels. His job was to contact drug traffickers in the Colombian cities of Medellin and Barranquilla, gaining a valuable network of contacts to smuggle cocaine into the United States, Europe and Asia. After Felix Gallardo was arrested in 1989, Guzman's Sinaloa drug cartel began its rise as the biggest gang in the country.

4. Guzman has nurtured a Robin Hood image in his home state of Sinaloa, where local folk bands sang his praises. He is said to be brazen enough to walk into restaurants in Sinaloa, ask diners to hand their mobile phones to his bodyguards, eat calmly and pay everyone's tabs before leaving. When he was arrested, supporters protested in Sinaloa.

5. He used to be on Forbes magazine's list of billionaires until the US publication said in 2013 that it could not verify his wealth and that it believed he was increasingly spending his fortune on protection. 

6. His cartel has been entangled in brutal turf wars against the paramilitary-like Zetas cartel and other gangs for years. More than 80,000 people have died in the drug war since 2006, when then president Felipe Calderon deployed soldiers against gangs. More than 10,000 were killed in Ciudad Juarez alone in violence between Sinaloa and Juarez cartel members fighting for supremacy in the key drug corridor at the border with the US state of Texas. Guzman's own family has paid dearly for his life of crimes. One of his brothers was killed in a Mexican jail in December 2004 and a son was killed in a Culiacan shopping centre in May 2008.

7. Guzman's first break from prison was in 2001, when he slipped past the authorities at a prison in western Jalisco state by hiding in a laundry cart. He spent 13 years on the run before his capture in February 2014, long enough to build a drug trafficking empire that stretched around the globe. 

8. After his first arrest, he spent 17 months at the Altiplano maximum-security prison in central Mexico before escaping for the second time on July 11, 2015.  He was found to have escaped through a hole in his private shower that links to a sophisticated tunnel that ends inside a building on a hill surrounded by pastures in central Mexico state.  Marines nearly captured him in October, 2015, in a remote mountain region. He injured his face and a leg while falling in the rough terrain, but special forces failed to nab him. 

9. His ability to sneak tonnes of cocaine, heroin and marijuana into the United States made him "Public Enemy Number One" in Chicago, a moniker that had been given to US prohibition-era mafia boss Al Capone. Guzman "easily surpassed the carnage and social destruction that was caused by Capone", the Chicago Crime Commission said in February 2013.

10. He married 18-year-old beauty queen, Emma Coronel, in 2007 and is believed to have 10 children with various women.

How did he escape from prison on July 11, 2015?


The presumed end of the tunnel through which Mexican drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman might have escaped from the Altiplano prison. PHOTO: AFP

- Guzman was last seen right before 9pm local time on July 11, when he went into his private shower in Altiplano prison. After he failed to come out, guards found a hole 10m deep with a ladder inside.


An area of the tunnel connected to the Altiplano Federal Penitentiary that was used by drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to escape. PHOTO: REUTERS

- The gap led to a sophisticated tunnel nearly 1.6km long and about 1.7m high, just tall enough for Guzman to stand up. The tunnel has a ventilation and light system made out of PVC pipes and is reinforced by a wooden frame.


Journalists work inside a warehouse containing a tunnel connected to the Altiplano Federal Penitentiary that was used by drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman to escape. PHOTO: REUTERS

- Workers used GPS technology to accurately route the entrance of the tunnel to Guzman's cell and a motorcycle-adapted rail system to move the large amounts of dirt being excavated, said Mr Michael S. Vigil, former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Agency, who has been briefed on the investigation. The tunnel ends inside a house that is under construction and surrounded by empty fields.


A tunnel connected to the Altiplano Federal Penitentiary that drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman used to escape. PHOTO: REUTERS

- Construction on the tunnel may have begun as early as a year ago, soon after Guzman was sent to Altiplano, Mr Vigil said. He estimated that the tunnel probably cost the kingpin millions of dollars and took as long as a year to construct.

SOURCE: AFP, REUTERS, LOS ANGELES TIMES, ABC NEWS