Posted on March 4, 2016

El Chapo Entered US Twice While on the Run After Prison Break, Daughter Claims

Joaquín 'El Chapo' Guzmán, Guardian, March 4, 2016

The drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán bankrolled the election of senior Mexico politicians and twice secretly entered the United States to visit relatives, according to his eldest daughter.

Rosa Isela Guzmán Ortiz said that shortly after an interview with Hollywood star Sean Penn last year, her father dodged a massive manhunt with the complicity of corrupt Mexican officials and evaded US border controls to sneak into California–despite being one of the world’s most wanted fugitives.

She also accused senior Mexican politicians of accepting donations from El Chapo when they ran for office, and said that in return officials turned a blind eye to his escapes from prison.

“My dad is not a criminal. The government is guilty,” she told the Guardian.

The explosive allegations made by Guzmán Ortiz could not be independently verified and are likely to be vigorously contested by Mexican and US authorities.

Guzmán Ortiz, 39, made the claims in a series of interviews which she said were given in consultation with her father.

El Chapo was recaptured in January after seven months on the run, and sent back to the Altiplano security jail near Mexico–the same prison from which he escaped in July 2015 through a tunnel which opened into his shower stall.

Earlier this week, he instructed his lawyers to drop their attempts to fight extradition to the United States in the apparent hope of negotiating a lighter sentence.

Guzmán Ortiz said the drug lord had planned to hand the reins of the Sinaloa cartel to her half-brother, Iván Archivaldo, but was betrayed by a cartel colleague, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada–and by the Mexican government, which she said had broken an agreement to protect El Chapo.

It is the first time the cartel leader’s daughter has spoken to the media. The Guardian has seen several documents confirming her identity, including her birth certificate and Mexican voting card.

Guzmán Ortiz’s identity was also confirmed by Francisco Villa Gurrola, an evangelical minister in El Chapo’s hometown of Badiraguato, who is a close friend of the drug lord’s 87-year-old mother Consuela Loera.

Her claims about El Chapo’s visits to California will raise questions about US intelligence and border security. As head of the world’s biggest and richest criminal syndicate he was the drug war’s most prized target.

Guzmán Ortiz said her father crossed the border in late 2015 to visit relatives and to view her home, a five-bedroom house with a large garden which he bought for her and her four children. She granted the interview on condition its location not be disclosed.

“My dad deposited the money in a bank account with a lawyer and a while after he came to see the house, his house. He came twice.”

She declined to specify how he criss-crossed the heavily guarded frontier, saying only: “I asked him the same, believe me.”

El Chapo has other family ties to the US: his third wife, the former beauty queen Emma Coronel, is a US citizen and in 2011 gave birth to twin daughters in southern California.

At the time, El Chapo had been on the run for a more than decade, and then president Felipe Calderón speculated that the fugitive drug kingpin could be hiding north of the border.

“He’s not in Mexican territory, and I suppose El Chapo is in US territory,” he told the New York Times.

José Reveles, the author of a string of books about the Mexican underworld, said that “nothing is impossible” for El Chapo, pointing out that Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel pioneered the use of sophisticated tunnels to smuggle drug shipments–and cartel members–into the US.

“Everything indicates that El Chapo would be able to visit the US: he’s very smart, he has well-trained operatives and he has experts in building tunnels,” said Reveles.

El Chapo’s rise from impoverished orange seller to Forbes-listed billionaire funnelling vast quantities of marijuana, cocaine and other drugs to the US has long been the subject of intense speculation.

Guzmán Ortiz’s explanation is that he bought protection at the highest official level, dispatching representatives to meetings with senior politicians and their representatives.

“All I know is that my dad told his lawyer to deliver some cheques to [a politician’s] campaign, and asked that he respect him.”

She said the family was considering releasing copies of the cheques along with names of officials and politicians who accepted his support.

Guzmán Ortiz is not the only member of El Chapo’s family to have approached the media, suggesting a concerted attempt by the capo to promote his version of events–or exert pressure on Mexican authorities.

El Chapo’s meeting with Penn was enabled by the actress Kate del Castillo, who hoped to produce a biopic of the drug lord, and his lawyers contacted at least two authors over a possible biography. In recent weeks his third wife, Emma Coronel, has granted a string of television interviews.

El Chapo earned worldwide notoriety with his dramatic jailbreaks from high-security prisons: in 2001 he reportedly left Puente Grande prison near Guadalajara hidden in a laundry basket, and in July 2015 he left Altiplano on a modified motorbike which carried him through a mile-long tunnel.

The second breakout was widely seen as an especially humiliating blow to the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, but according to his daughter, senior officials had already given the green light for the escape.

“My dad’s escape was an agreement,” she said.

At least 34 people have been charged with helping El Chapo escape, including the former director of Altiplano prison and the head of Mexico’s federal prison system.

Towards the end of last year, the net appeared to be closing in on El Chapo after he arranged a meeting with del Castillo and Penn, who were under surveillance by intelligence agents. In October, the Mexican military launched a massive operation in the mountainous region between Sinaloa and Durango states, but failed to capture the cartel boss.

The following month, another attempt to capture El Chapo–during a planned family reunion at the home of El Chapo’s mother in the village of La Tuna, Sinaloa–was also foiled after a high-placed source in the secretariat of national defence tipped off the family, said Guzmán Ortiz.

El Chapo’s luck finally ran out in January, when he was cornered in the coastal town of Los Mochis. The daughter attributed her father’s capture to a betrayal by senior Mexican officials and politicians. “If there’s a pact, they don’t respect it. Now that they catch him they say he’s a criminal, a killer. But they didn’t say that when they asked for money for their campaigns. They’re hypocrites.”

A US citizen, Guzmán Ortiz runs a chain of small businesses in California and speaks fluent English. She compared herself to narco juniors–a Mexican term for the privileged offspring of the country’s drug lords–but said any money she received from her father was clean.

“My businesses are the result of my own efforts,” she said.