It’s the tunnel experts say would have taken at least one year and plenty of noise to make – and now photos taken inside the Mexican prison cell of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman have shown exactly how the drug kingpin was able to get out.
The release of the images – showing the 50cm-by-50cm hole at the base of El Chapo’s shower that he used to enter an elaborate series of underground tunnels – coincides with news that the drug lord would have had to pay guards inside Almoloya prison an estimated total of $50million in order to bribe his path to freedom.
Jhon Jairo Velasquez Vasquez, the former chief hitman of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, believes that Guzman ‘will die free’ because he was able to pull off such a daring escape on Saturday night – and will continue to do so on the lam.
Reports also emerged overnight that El Chapo left a live sparrow in the waste bin of his cell. The authorities found it curled up asleep in the bottom of his bedside bin when they inspected the cell for clues as to his escape, it was claimed. But other reports said it was found dead and was used to test the air quality in the tunnel before his escape.
It’s thought that his accomplices, meeting him at the tunnel entrance, passed him the bird to place in his bin before he left. This would explain why he walked back and forth so much from the shower before exiting.
‘It’s the signature of his flight’, said one of the investigating officers. The bird is now being kept by the federal attorney’s office as evidence taken from his cell.
Mexican authorities have distributed 100,000 photos of Guzman and have 10,000 agents on high-alert as they desperately try to recapture him
‘You have to buy off the guards and they know how rich he is. They will have asked for tens of millions of dollars,’ Vasquez told The Telegraph.
‘That escape cost money.’
DEA documents obtained by The Associated Press on Monday showed that U.S. agents had seen signs that work on plotting Guzman’s escape began almost immediately after his arrest in February 2014.
Footage released earlier this week of the security cameras trained on Guzman’s cell show the exact moment he jumped into the crawlspace in his shower.
The drug lord prized open a 50cm-by-50cm grill in the shower floor, and climbed down a 32ft shaft into the complex tunnel system, which Mexican officials estimate to have taken his henchmen a total of 352 days, with four miners working eight to 10 hour shifts – all right under the feet of the guards.
In contrast to the clean-shaven photo of Guzman that Mexican officials released this weekend in what was said to be a recent picture, Guzman appears to have a full head of hair.
It is unclear if he has a mustache, but the hair seems to be consistent with pictures where he is pictured drinking and flying on an airplane in what his sons claim to be photos taken this weekend.
The video comes as 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 organization 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.
And because Guzman was never extradited, Jordan, who spend 30 years with the DEA, was not shocked that the drug lord had yet again escaped.
‘No, I’m surprised it took a year for him to escape,’ he said, before correcting himself: ‘Before he was allowed to escape.’
Jordan, like many others, believes that Guzman had help from his escape, even from those outside the people who dug his tunnel.
After his 2001 escape, dozens of prison workers, including the warden, were prosecuted.
Jordan went on to say that Guzman’s capture in 2014 was ‘absolute BS’, adding that the extradition ‘was never going to happen’.
‘They don’t capture Guzman unless they’ve made a deal with Guzman not to extradite him to the United States,’ he said.