It all started, according to court records, with an anonymous email received on September 24, 2015, almost three months after Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s remarkable escape from the maximum-security El Altiplano penitentiary: the message alerted the authorities that Mexican actress Kate del Castillo was planning on meeting the head of the Sinaloa cartel because she wanted to make a movie about his life. “On September 25, 2015, she will meet him in the village of La Tuna, in Badiraguato, Sinaloa,” the transcription reads. “You only need to follow her or tap her phones to verify what I am telling you.” More than a tip, the message was almost an instruction. From that day on, the actress officially became a target of Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office (PGR), and she remained on their radar long after the drug lord was recaptured several months later, in January 2016.
A review of the investigation the authorities opened against Kate del Castillo at the end of 2015, to which EL PAÍS has had access, leaves question marks over the motives or the clues that drove the investigation in the aftermath of El Chapo’s fall: for 17 months, the PGR deployed wiretaps, detectives, tax audits, witness statements and the cooperation of the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to see if it was possible to charge Del Castillo with crimes including organized crime and concealment on the basis of her exchanges and her meeting with El Chapo.
But their efforts were frustrated. The evidence available failed to link Del Castillo with the Sinaloa cartel or to prove that El Chapo’s money was behind a tequila she promoted, but the process gave rise to a soap opera of leaked messages, accusations, lawsuits and a bizarre meeting between one of the most powerful drug lords in the world, renowned US actor Sean Penn, Del Castillo and two Hollywood producers.
The genesis of that meeting is well known: in 2012, Del Castillo published an open letter on Twitter in which she stated she trusted El Chapo more than the Mexican government while asking the Sinaloa boss to start “trafficking with love.” Guzmán took note and Del Castillo became an obsession as he sought to achieve his longtime dream: turning his life story into a movie. The first contact between the actress and El Chapo’s lawyers came in 2014, while Guzmán was in custody at El Altiplano. From there, the actress and the drug lord – with his lawyers as intermediaries – began a correspondence that was followed keenly by the authorities. On the day the anonymous message was received, according to the documents, federal police were dispatched to airports in Mexico City and Guadalajara to find out if Del Castillo had any reservations. Coincidentally, she did: the actress was due to fly to Guadalajara.
When she arrived, she was tailed by police to her hotel, and once inside the hotel restaurant, the investigators took a table next to the one where Del Castillo was in conversation with one of El Chapo’s lawyers. They were able to pick up fragments of the exchange, such as Del Castillo saying it would “be an honor” to be El Chapo’s partner.
According to the chats that prosecutors later leaked to the press, September 25 was the day that Del Castillo told El Chapo’s lawyers that she wanted to bring Sean Penn with her when they met in person to discuss the possibility of making a movie. The lawyers apparently had to explain to Guzmán who Penn was – “the one out of 21 Grams,” the drug lord was informed. They also explained he was an activist who had been “critical of the Bush administration.” El Chapo accepted the meeting with Penn, Del Castillo and the producers and gave instructions for the actress to be provided with a phone while setting a date for the encounter: October 2 or 3.
In the days following the meeting between Del Castillo and El Chapo’s lawyers, the police kept a close eye on the airports. On October 2, Del Castillo landed in Guadalajara on a private jet accompanied by Penn. Police followed them to their hotel, where they left their luggage and left again in three vehicles, headed for Tepic, in Nayarit state. On the way, the police saw the convoy enter an opening “where an airstrip was located, watching two light aircraft take off moments later.” That was as far as the officers got that day. What happened next has been relayed by Del Castillo in Procesomagazine, and Penn, in Rolling Stone.
On October 2 and 3, 2015, the actors met with El Chapo in a mountainous area of Mexico, the location of which was not revealed, and where over 100 members of the Sinaloa cartel were on hand to keep watch on them. In his lengthy, self-indulgent, and widely questioned account in Rolling Stone, published the day after El Chapo was recaptured on January 10, 2016, Penn talks about the drug lord’s “warm smile” and “undeniable charisma.”
The meeting turned out to be the origin of a falling out between Del Castillo and Penn, who leveled accusations at each other, as well as a source of public humiliation for the Mexican government of Enrique Peña Nieto: three months after escaping from a maximum-security jail, the most-wanted criminal in North America was drinking tequila and bragging about his illegal exploits with a Hollywood actor and a Mexican television star under the noses of the federal authorities.
When the attorney general learned that EL Chapo had been recaptured after six months on the run, he said an important part of pinpointing his hideout had been “discovering that Guzmán was intending to make a biographical movie, which led him to establish conversations with actors and producers.” In one way or another, his assertion made everybody involved part of the problem.
Source: EL PAIS