Prior to Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán’s brazen jailbreak in July 2015, Mexican federal officials allowed a private company to connect a geolocation-monitoring bracelet to him.
But that company was never contracted to work for the government — and that bracelet was never watched.
A report by Mexican periodical Reforma was unable to find definitive answers about who authorised the device and who monitored it, which suggests the possibility that it was another element of the kingpin’s escape plan.
“Some high officials in the federal government consider that, because of the grade of precision in the digging and the excavation,” Reforma concludes, “the tunnel through which ‘El Chapo’ escaped could not have been constructed without the help of geolocation device.”
Judicial documents seen by Reforma indicate that the bracelet Guzmán was wearing the night of his escape, July 11, was never monitored by the National Center for Security and Investigations (Cisen), the federal police, or the office of Prevention and Social Readaptation (OADPRS).
One of the top officials responsible for monitoring Guzmán from the control center at Altiplano prison told the Attorney General’s investigators that his office had received the equipment needed to monitor the bracelet, but never used it, according to Reforma.
After Guzmán’s escape, the Attorney General’s investigations office interviewed Enrique Angulo Cervera, the adjunct director of informatics, material resources, and services for OADPRS, who said the monitoring system was installed by Mexican company Systemtech Sistemas Tecnológicos as a “pilot project” in the Altiplano control center, which was run by the federal police, in November 2014.
Because it was a pilot program, there was no contract with the company that made it, Angulo told investigators. The aim was that “those responsible for the monitoring [could] evaluate the functionality and convenience” of the service, Angulo said.
Angulo also pointed investigators to the office within the federal police that is by law responsible for implementing and administering technological systems.
Vicente Flores Hernández, head of the federal police’s control center at Altiplano, partially corroborated to investigators what Angulo had said, confirming that police were aware of the device.
However, Flores told them, federal police never monitored the bracelet; he said Systemtech Sistemas Tecnológicos reported that the signal was monitored in Mexican City, but did not say by whom.
Investigators from the Attorney General’s office then contacted José Alejandro Colín Elías, director of institutional security for Cisen, who told them in writing that his agency monitored Guzmán through closed-circuit cameras with microphones.
When asked specifically about the monitoring bracelet, Colín replied on July 31 last year: “Yes, at some point it was reported to me by someone working for me in the Social Readaptation Center Number 1, Altiplano, that it was put on [Guzmán] with the aim of monitoring him, without knowing what company or what person ordered that it be connected.”
That the monitoring bracelet was installed under orders from an as-yet unknown source, and that it was monitored by some unknown official in a location that is also unknown, could all point to some larger scheme hatched by Guzmán and his henchmen not long after his arreste in February 2014.
Of course, given the administrative disarray that characterises much of the Mexican government’s operations, Mexican officials may have made this error without any outside help.
While orchestrating the delivery of a geolocation device to his cell would be a complex feat for Guzmán, it would only be but one part of his escape scheme.
It’s believed that the engineers who constructed the tunnel — who were reportedly trained in Germany — had blueprints from the prison Guzmán broke out of in 2001. That prison and Altiplano have roughly the same design.
Nor was the bracelet the only oversight by prison officials at Altiplano. In the moments before his escape on July 11, loud banging and machinery sounds were heard coming from his cell and could be heard on the security-camera footage released after his escape.
Officials in the prison control center would also found to be playing solitaire and otherwise ignoring their computers while Guzmán escaped. (Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto also went back to playing dominoes after he learned of the escape.)
The security cameras picked up Guzmán walking into his cell shower and then disappearing on the night of the escape, but 18 minutes passed between when officials noticed he was gone and when they got to the cell to investigate. It took another three hours to activate a “code red” to lock down the prison and alert outside authorities.
As of September 2015, nearly 30 officials had been arrested on suspicion of aiding the escape; among them were two ex-directors of Altiplano and the former head of Mexico’s federal prisons.
Mexican officials seem to be much more vigilant now that they have Guzmán back in jail at Altiplano after recapturing him on January 8, increasing security at the prison and moving the kingpin from cell to cell.