Inmates at the prison where Mexican drugs lord El Chapo escaped through a mile-long tunnel had complained of noisy construction work in the days leading up to his audacious bid for freedom, it was revealed today.
Prison authorities had authorised ‘drilling and waterproofing works’ connected with the pipeline construction project that ran alongside the penitentiary perimeter of Mexico’s most secure jail.
Sources inside the prison told Mexican newspaper La Reforma that the construction works were ‘extremely noisy’, and that a large number of prison inmates had complained about the din. It could have drowned out the noise of the construction of the kingpin’s escape tunnel.
It is believed that the final stage of the tunnel’s construction, which brought the escape passage upwards to emerge below the shower in the kingpin’s cell, was completed during this time.
It also emerged today that it took 30 minutes after El Chapo disappeared from the screens of the 24-hour surveillance camera in his shower block for guards to raise the alarm.
Prison officials told the media this morning that while El Chapo disappeared from his cell at 8:52pm, the code red which shuts down any entrance or exit from the penitentiary did not come into action until 9:20pm.
It is known that by this time the fugitive Sinaloa Cartel boss could have been many miles away from his tunnel’s exit.
Mexican federal investigators have stated that the subterranean motorbike on rails could have made the mile-long journey in just three minutes.
El Chapo’s exit was awaited by his henchmen, who would have moved him quickly into the black 4x4s they had waiting at the construction site in San Juanita, just a 500 metre drive to the Toluca highway.
Yesterday it was claimed that El Chapo may have paid around $50m in bribes to ensure his escape.
Twenty-two out of 31 prison employees who were arrested and questioned by police remain in custody following the escape, which experts say would have been impossible without the complicity of at least some of the prison staff.
The prison, Mexico’s most advanced federal maximum security penitentiary, is equipped with subterranean sonar specifically designed to counter tunnelling under the facility.
At least three of El Chapo’s nine children are known to be under surveillance by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Ivan Archivaldo Guzman, the acting head of the cartel acting on order received from his father in prison, usually via the legal counsel who visited him in prison, is under 24-hour surveillance, as well as his brothers Jesus and Ovidio.
Ivan, who dropped numerous hints via Twitter of his father’s upcoming escape, is wanted in the United States on charges of cocaine and marijuana trafficking.
Known as El Chapito, or Little Chapo, Ivan has been acting boss in his father’s absence.
After El Chapo’s trail went cold at the exit to his tunnel a mile south of the prison, his sons are thought to be the best clues a to their father’s whereabouts.
The escape – and questions over why the recent construction work was allowed to go ahead next to the prison where a man infamous for his use of tunnels – is especially embarrassing for the Mexican authorities because it has emerged that they were warned at least twice that he was plotting to break out.
A former DEA agent claims he warned Mexican officials that the drug lord would escape again if he wasn’t extradited to the United States after his capture last year.
Phil Jordan, the former head of the DEA’s El Paso Intelligence Center said that it was a ‘significant arrest’ in February 2013, after Guzman had been on the run for 13 years following another prison escape.
But Jordan said it would only be considered a success if Guzman, who escaped from a maximum-security prison again on Saturday, was immediately taken out of Mexico.
‘If he does not get extradited, then he will be allowed to escape within a period of time… If he is, in fact, incarcerated, until he gets extradited to the United States, it will be business as usual,’ he told CNN at the time.
There were also a number of other warnings made: in March last year, agents in Los Angeles reported a ‘possible escape operation funded by another drug trafficking organization linked to the Sinaloa cartel’.
The DEA didn’t specify which organisation was behind the attempt, but ‘threats’ and ‘bribes’ to prison officials were mentioned.
Perhaps more telling, in July 2014 El Chapo was overheard discussing escape plans with lawyers during legal counsel times. He also used these meetings to continue with the administration of his cartel’s operations from prison, sending directions to his son Ivan who would then act on them.