Mexico’s Most Powerful Drug Lord Escaped Prison Through An Elaborate Tunnel

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The most powerful drug lord in Mexico, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, is on the run again. Guzman, the former leader of the Sinaloa cartel, was captured in May 2014 after a 13-year manhunt. He previously escaped prison and avoided authorities for years. After much pomp and circumstance, Guzman was quietly taken into custody one morning at a high-rise condo in Mazatlan. The Justice Department celebrated due to the enormous quantity of drugs moved by the Sinaloa cartel, which sees estimated profits of around $3 billion per year.

Guzman did it again. He escaped from a maximum-security Mexican prison by entering a 1-mile tunnel from his cell. The escape is particularly baffling since El Chapo has always been tunnel obsessed. During his early, 1980s career, Guzman hired architect Felipe de Jesus Corona-Verbera to design “a f*cking cool tunnel” that led from just south of the Mexican border to a cartel-owned warehouse in Arizona. Together, the two planned and built over ninety tunnels that crossed the border. You’d think prison officials would be savvy to Guzman’s usual modus operendi, but no. Now Guzman is free to rule his cartel again:

The elaborate underground escape route built allegedly without the detection of authorities allowed Guzman to do what Mexican officials promised would never happen after his re-capture last year — slip out of one of the country’s most secure penitentiaries for the second time.

If Guzman is not captured immediately, the drug lord will likely be back in full command and control of the Sinaloa cartel in 48 hours, said Michael S. Vigil, a retired U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration chief of international operations.

“We may never find him again,” he said.

Guzman was last seen about 9 p.m. Saturday in the shower area of his cell, according to a statement from the National Security Commission. After a time, he was lost by the prison’s security camera surveillance network. Upon checking his cell, authorities found it empty and a 20-by-20-inch (50-by-50 centimeter) hole near the shower.

Guzman’s escape is a major embarrassment to the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto, which had received plaudits for its aggressive approach to top drug lords. Since the government took office in late 2012, Mexican authorities have nabbed or killed six of them, including Guzman.

Around 20 employees were rounded up for questioning because Guzman couldn’t have achieved this escape without a lot of help. The tunnel structure was built without anyone noticing, and it ended a mile away in a farmhouse. The structure itself was 1.7 yards high and fully ventilated. Prison officials really dropped the ball on this one.

Upon Guzman’s last arrest, the former Mexican Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam insisted upon keeping the drug lord in the country as “a question of national sovereignty.” He said any risk of escape “does not exist.” Karam stepped down in February after botching a different case, which looks to be just one of his many mistakes.

(via NY Times, The New Yorker & Gawker)