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Mexico hunts drug kingpin, probes prison guards

Almoloya De Juarez (Mexico), July 14: Mexican security forces scrambled today to save face and recapture drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman as authorities investigated whether guards helped him escape prison through a tunnel under his cell.

For the second time in 14 years the head of the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel managed to flee a maximum-security prison, dealing an embarrassing setback to President Enrique Pena Nieto.

Troops and police were deployed to hunt down Guzman after he vanished late Saturday from the Altiplano prison 90 kilometres (55 miles) west of Mexico City, after just 17 months behind bars.

Prosecutors questioned 30 prison employees of various rank, including the warden, who spent the night at the anti-organised crime unit of the attorney general’s office.

The guards in charge of the capo’s cell and those who monitored the surveillance cameras that look into the room were among those interrogated, said an official in the attorney general’s office.

“They are making statements, with the assistance of lawyers and human rights personnel,” the official told on condition of anonymity, adding that no charges have been filed so far.

Guzman’s lawyers and anybody else who visited him during his incarceration are also being sought for questioning, the official said.

Authorities had already investigated a strange prison visit to Guzman in March when a woman managed to see him by using a fake ID to enter the jail.

On a state visit to Paris, Pena Nieto said Guzman’s escape was “an affront to the state” and demanded an investigation into whether prison guards helped him.

Guzman, 58, who nurtured a Robin Hood image in his northwestern state of Sinaloa while running the most powerful and one of the most ruthless cartels in Mexico, was able to slip out even though surveillance cameras were trained on his cell.

He went into his private shower and after he failed to come out guards found a hole 10 metres (33 feet) deep with a ladder in it.

The gap led to a 1.5-kilometre tunnel with a ventilation and light system, ending inside a gray brick building on a hill surrounded by pastures in central Mexico State.

A huge water pipeline project is under construction around the prison, which could explain why the tunnel’s construction went unnoticed.