Just weeks after ZOO printed the story of Mexico’s newest and deadliest cartel, their former adversary is back on the streets. This is how he did it…
Altiplano prison, the scene of Mexico’s most audacious jailbreak ever. The escapee: drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the leader of the notorious Sinaloa cartel and, following his second escape from a maximum-security prison, the country’s most-wanted… again! Ever since his capture by anti-cartel special forces in February 2014, Guzman has been held under lock and key in Altiplano. But earlier this month, he escaped from his cell – which was monitored 24 hours a day – through a sophisticated mile-long tunnel, complete with lighting, transport and ventilation, to a safe house before making his getaway from the Mexican authorities. With the most-wanted drug trafficker back on the run, ZOO investigates…
The rise of El Chapo
Joaquin Guzman, aka El Chapo – which means “shorty” – built his reputation at a number of smaller cartel outfits. It wasn’t until he became the Sinaloa cartel’s leader and formed close alliances with Colombian producers, leading to his rise as the largest trafficker of cannabis, cocaine and heroin into the United States, Europe and even Australia, that he finally made his name. The farmer-turned-fugitive was first apprehended in 1993 and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Eight years later, he was said to have paid off guards and left the prison hidden inside a laundry basket – though other reports suggest he merely walked out of the front door. After this, Guzman became a thing of legend, allegedly walking into restaurants and ordering the guests to hand in their mobile phones to his henchman before offering to pay their bills in a bid to keep his location secret.
In February 2014, after 13 years on the run, Guzman was finally recaptured by Mexico’s answer to the Marines. He was found in a no-frills home in the Pacific resort town of Mazatlan, after the security forces launched a pre-dawn raid on the premises. Finding him in bed with his supermodel bride – and an AK-47 for good measure – they faced no resistance and he was taken away and eventually sentenced to 22 years in prison for a $1billion drug smuggling conspiracy.
Public enemy No1 was being held in Altiplano prison, Mexico’s toughest facility, located 55 miles west of Mexico City. Guzman was housed in a cell that was constantly monitored by CCTV. Yet on 11 July, he still managed to sneak out undetected through a carefully crafted hole in the cell’s shower area. El Chapo’s vanishing was carefully orchestrated as mining experts hired by the Sinaloa cartel spent 353 days removing more than 3,250 tonnes of earth to construct a tunnel 0.9 miles long from a building site to 32ft under their leader’s cell. At 8.52pm, Guzman clambered down into the tunnel to meet his assistants for the escape. He was transported on a motorcycle that had been mounted onto a railroad, and with the assistance of oxygen bottles, he travelled to freedom and has reportedly only been spotted by a couple who saw him leaving the building site in a red 4×4 truck.
Since the high-profile escape, more than 30 prison employees have been brought in for questioning by investigators and a total of seven have now been charged. According to cartel experts, they were offered a share of $50m in illegal bribes.
It took 18 minutes to discover El Chapo had escaped. The Mexican Government, alongside the US authorities, have launched their largest manhunt to date. More than 100,000 wanted posters have been distributed, with a $3.8m bounty placed on Guzman’s head. With an unprecedented amount of men assigned the job of recapturing Mexico’s greatest escape artist, one thing is certain: this is a huge blow to their war on drugs…