TIJUANA – Mexican federal authorities were on the verge of capturing Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán in a mansion in Los Cabos three weeks ago, one day before U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with President Felipe Calderón other foreign ministers at an economic meeting there, according to press reports.
José Cuitlahuac Salinas, deputy attorney general in the unit that battles organized crime (Siedo), said on Sunday that federal agents almost nabbed Guzmán in late February.
“We know he was there,” Salinas said, according to The Washington Post.
The newspaper reported that Mexican authorities detained four people in the house where the drug lord was supposedly hiding, two men and two women, and seized weapons. Siedo did not identify them but reported that one of the men was Guzman’s pilot.
Forbes magazine labeled Guzmán, 54, the world’s most dangerous criminal. He leads the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico’s most powerful drug syndicate. Authorities have been hunting him since he escaped from a Jalisco state prison in January of 2001. A $7 million reward is being offered for his capture in Mexico or the United States.
In the last year, the Sinaloa cartel has emerged as the key drug organization in the Tijuana border region, displacing the Tijuana-based Arellano Félix organization, which has been decimated by internal fighting.
Guzmán, thought to have a personal security force of 300 men, is said to move constantly to avoid capture.
Salinas said he did not now the location of the mansion where Guzman was staying other than to say that it was in an exclusive enclave known as Punta Ballena. He did not provide details of the operation that tracked him there and nearly nabbed him.
This is not the first time Guzmán escapes capture at the last minute, fueling rumors that someone in law enforcement ranks is tipping him off.
“We will keep searching for him,” Salinas pledged.
Clinton visited Los Cabos on Feb. 19 and 20 to meet with other leaders of the world’s leading economies, known as the Group of 20.