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Sean Penn's meeting was 'essential' to finding El Chapo

Sinaloa drug cartel leader Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman was captured on Friday following a long manhunt.

Drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman is escorted into a helicopter at Mexico City’s airport on 8 January, 2016 following his recapture during an intense military operation in Los Mochis, in Sinaloa State. Picture: AFP.

LOS MOCHIS, MEXICO - A secret meeting Hollywood star Sean Penn held with the world's most-wanted drug boss, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, to discuss a magazine article was essential to finding the fugitive, Mexico's attorney general said on Monday.

Guzman, head of the Sinaloa drug cartel, was captured on Friday following a months-long manhunt after he tunnelled out of a Mexican maximum security prison in July.

Mexico has said it plans to extradite him to the United States, where he is wanted for exporting hundreds of tonnes of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin across the border.

But Mexican Attorney General Arely Gomez said that while extraditing kingpins takes on average a year, it could take up to five years in Guzman's case.

Rolling Stone magazine published an article by Penn on Saturday based on his interview with Guzman. Gomez said a line of investigation had been opened into the meeting between Guzman and Penn in early October at a jungle hideout, adding that any possible criminal investigation against the actor-director would depend on what, if any, deals he struck with Guzman.

US investigators will also examine Penn's interactions with Guzman, two US government sources said on Monday, but it was unclear if prosecutors would try to force the actor to turn over information about the interview.

Mexican Actress Kate del Castillo accompanied Penn to the meeting at an undisclosed location. Mexico's government had been following a Guzman lawyer who accompanied them. Mexican daily El Universal published photographs on Monday of Penn and Castillo that it said showed the pair being tracked at the time.

"It (the meeting) was an essential element, because we were following (Guzman's) lawyer, and the lawyer took us to these people and to this meeting," Gomez told local radio.

Penn, who has been criticised in the United States and in Mexico for his visit to Guzman, told the Associated Press on Monday: "I've got nothing to hide."

Reuters could not reach Del Castillo for comment.

In the interview with Penn published by Rolling Stone, Guzman said he felt neither remorse nor responsibility for smuggling billions of dollars worth of drugs into the United States. Nor did he consider himself a violent man despite countless murders blamed on him, he told Penn.

MIRROR HID ESCAPE TUNNEL

More details emerged on Monday of Guzman's capture, which has been a boost to President Enrique Pena Nieto after the embarrassment of his escape last year.

The drug kingpin initially gave Mexican security forces the slip as they closed in, opening a secret doorway hidden behind a mirror in his walk-in bedroom closet, and descending into a tunnel about 30 meters long that connected to the drains of Los Mochis, a city in his native state of Sinaloa.

He spent hours below ground as his henchmen lured pursuing Marines into a chase onto the roof of the house and into neighbouring properties, where four of them were shot dead. Another was killed inside the house, officials said.

Finally discovering the hidden tunnel, some Marines tried to follow Guzman into the drains, but could not find him, a security official said. As rain started to fill the drains, Guzman eventually emerged from a manhole by a gas station about 1.6 km across town and stole a car at gunpoint.

Video footage broadcast by Televisa showed Marines firing shots inside the house during the dawn raid.

It took the Marines 90 minutes to find the tunnel entrance, giving Guzman a crucial head start, the broadcaster said. The lever to open the reinforced door behind the mirror was concealed in the light of the walk-in closet.

Below, there was a submarine-like metal hatch connecting the partially flooded tunnel to the Los Mochis drains.

Marines found another hole beneath a refrigerator which proved to be a red herring, the apparent beginnings of a project to build another escape route. They also found two women cowering in one of the home's five bathrooms.

"My holidays are over," Guzman said when he was finally caught, Televisa reported.

Inside the bedclothes of the kingpin's large bed at the Los Mochis property were DVDs of "La Reina Del Sur," a fictional series about a female drug boss starring Del Castillo.

Bullet holes peppered the stair wall of the house and there was blood spattered in several rooms. Clothes, food and equipment were strewn around the building and socks, shirts and underpants still hung on a washing line on the terrace.

In the bedroom, there were flatscreen TVs and a sofa littered with injectable testosterone, syringes, antibiotics and condoms. There was also a packet of "Miracle V Tonic", a dietary supplement which promises to enhance sexual performance.

The Marines burst through two doors to find 15 of Guzman's henchmen armed with machine guns and rocket launchers. The military operation was dubbed "Black Swan".

WANTED IN THE UNITED STATES

The White House on Monday commended Mexico's government for Guzman's capture, stressing it had been a key bilateral issue.

"The capture of Mr. Guzman has been a high priority for both Mexico and the United States," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said at a news briefing.

The Mexican government said late on Sunday it was formally starting extradition proceedings against Guzman. Mexico regularly extradites leading traffickers but the government resisted handing over Guzman after his arrest in February 2014 as a point of national pride.

On Sunday, Interpol served two extradition warrants, the Mexican attorney general's office said, kick-starting the latest attempt to have Guzman face US justice.

The US government wants Guzman, who is believed to be 58 years old, tried on charges ranging from money laundering to drug trafficking, kidnapping and murder.

Guzman, who is blamed for thousands of deaths in Mexico and the United States from addiction and gang warfare, is facing open federal indictments in seven US jurisdictions.

Chicago, which in 2013 dubbed Guzman its first Public Enemy No. 1 since Al Capone, and Brooklyn, New York, are top contenders to host what would be one of the highest-profile US criminal trials in years, former US law enforcement officials said.

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