MS Risk Blog

Mexican Officials Launch Search for Fugitive Drug Kingpin

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Mexican officials are searching for Joaquin Guzman, the fugitive drug kingpin who escaped from Mexico’s toughest prison, Altiplano, along a 1.5 kilometre long tunnel some 90 kilometres west of Mexico City. Known as “El Chapo” (Shorty) for his diminutive stature, Guzman is the head of the Sinaloa cartel, an organised criminal syndicate based in the city of Culiacán, Sinaloa. In recent years, it has smuggled billions of dollars of marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamine into the United States and has fought numerous bloody battles for pre-eminence with other Mexican cartels. Since the arrest of Osiel Cárdenas of the Gulf Cartel in 2003, Guzman is considered by US authorities to be the most powerful drug trafficker in the world.

In a statement issued by Mexico’s National Security Commission, Guzman – who had been in detention since February 2014 – was last seen by prison officials entering the shower area of his cell at 8.52 pm local time on Saturday. When his cell was subsequently investigated, a hole ten metres deep was found in the floor of the shower area. This led down to a 1.5 kilometre long tunnel which appears to have been professionally excavated. Police found a motorcycle mounted on rails that is thought to have been used to remove dirt as the tunnel was being dug as well as equipment for pumping in fresh air. The tunnel led to an abandoned house which enabled Guzman to resurface and complete his getaway unseen. Locals claim that this property was purchased by outsiders almost a year ago and that construction work has been going on ever since it was taken off the market.

Mexico’s Federal Attorney General’s Office has announced that its organised crime unit is currently in the process of interviewing thirty prison employees, to determine whether or not Guzman’s escape was made possible by an insider. Given that he was able to successfully bribe his way out of prison in 2001, speculation that his jailbreak was aided and abetted by prison authorities has been widely debated. Adding his voice to those who believe the escape was an “inside job” is Mexico’s Interior Minister Angel Osorio Chong, who has fired Altiplano’s prison director and the head of the national penitentiary system in an attempt “to facilitate” the investigation.

In a gesture of solidarity, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch has announced that “The US government stands ready to work with our Mexican partners to provide any assistance that may help support his swift recapture.” However, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto has expressed his confidence in the police’s ability to hunt down the escapee, saying in an interview that they possess the “strength and determination to recapture this criminal.” A 60 million peso (US$3.8 million) reward for information leading to Guzman’s capture has been offered.

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