Thursday 12 December 2019

Penn faces probe for secret meeting with top drug lord

Actor Sean Penn shakes hands with Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman in Mexico during their meeting in October for a ‘Rolling Stone’ interview. Photo: Rolling Stone
Actor Sean Penn shakes hands with Mexican drug lord Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman in Mexico during their meeting in October for a ‘Rolling Stone’ interview. Photo: Rolling Stone
A soldier patrols outside the house in in Mexico where Guzman was recaptured. Photo: Reuters

Robert Tait

Sean Penn was facing questions yesterday over a secret interview with drug baron Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman as Mexico declared it wanted to speak to the Hollywood star over his "responsibilities".

The interview, published in 'Rolling Stone' magazine, drew fierce criticism and threatened to eclipse last Friday's capture of Guzman by Mexican security forces in a deadly shoot-out six months after his spectacular escape from a high-security prison.

After months of secret negotiations, Penn was granted a "seven-hour sit-down" with the capo - presented as his first-ever interview outside an interrogation room.

"Not since Osama bin Laden has the pursuit of a fugitive so occupied the public imagination," the actor wrote in the article.

He described an elaborate anti-surveillance routine which enabled him to contact the world's most notorious drug trafficker - including the use of disposable "burner" phones.

"My head is swimming, labelling TracPhones (burners), one per contact, one per day, destroy, burn, buy, balancing levels of encryption, mirroring through Blackphones, anonymous email addresses, unsent messages accessed in draft form," the actor writes at the start of the 11,000-word article. "It's a clandestine horror show for the single most technologically illiterate man left standing."

'Rolling Stone' published a picture showing the actor shaking hands with the cartel leader, dated October 2.

A fierce critic of the US war on drugs, Penn - who had help from leading Mexican actress, Kate del Castillo - said he felt compelled to seek Guzman out of a sense of America's complicity in the drug violence plaguing its southern neighbours. While there was criticism of Penn in the US, the prospect of official action appeared to come from Mexico.

An unnamed official said that Penn and del Castillo, who brokered the interview, were wanted for questioning "to determine responsibilities".

It was unclear whether they had committed a crime but the agency quoted a second official as saying: "They're not journalists."

In the interview, Guzman - blamed by Mexico for thousands of killings in his capacity as head of the Sinaloa Cartel - expresses no contrition for his actions, saying in a video clip that he is not responsible for the spread of addiction to drugs like heroin and cocaine. He also claimed that he had been forced into the drug trade at the age of 15 by a lack of economic opportunity.

Penn says Guzman told him over sips of tequila that "I supply more heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine and marijuana than anybody else in the world. I have a fleet of submarines, aeroplanes, trucks and boats".

Nevertheless, the Mexican authorities said they knew about the meeting at the time - suggesting that Penn's efforts at electronic evasion were unsuccessful - and used it to establish Guzman's whereabouts.

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