MEXICO CITY, Mexico — Mexico’s government offered a $3.8 million reward for the capture of fugitive drug lord Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán on Monday and sacked top prison officials amid suspicions that guards helped him escape.
Guzmán vanished from his cell late Saturday even though he was wearing a monitoring bracelet and surveillance cameras were trained on the room 24 hours a day, Interior Minister Miguel Ángel Osorio Chong said.
Osorio Chong said Guzmán “must have counted on the complicity of prison personnel… which if confirmed would constitute an act of treason.”
Guzmán had been behind bars for just 17 months when he escaped for the second time since 2001, dealing a humiliating setback to President Enrique Peña Nieto’s administration.
This time, the head of the Sinaloa drug cartel managed to flee a maximum-security prison some 90 kilometers (55) miles west of Mexico City through a 1.5-kilometer tunnel found under his cell’s shower.
“What happened two days ago is a terrible event that has angered Mexican society,” Osorio Chong said.
While cameras were constantly trained on the cell, Osorio Chong said there were “two blind spots,” while the bracelet only worked inside the prison.
Osorio Chong said he decided to fire the Altiplano prison’s director as well as the head of the nation’s penitentiary system and general coordinator “to facilitate” the investigation.
Attorney General Arely Gómez said 34 prison officials and 17 inmates were interrogated by prosecutors. No charges have been announced so far.
A federal official said prison employees of various rank, including the warden, spent the night at the anti-organized crime unit of the attorney general’s office.
The guards in charge of the capo’s cell and those who monitored the surveillance cameras that look into the room were among those interrogated, the official said.
Two of Guzmán’s lawyers were questioned and anybody else who visited him during his incarceration is being sought.
The owner of the property where Guzmán’s tunnel ended also faced questioning.
‘No rest for Guzmán’
The government has launched a massive manhunt for Guzmán, who amassed a huge wealth as the head of the country’s most powerful drug gang, with tentacles reaching around the globe.
Troops and police patrolled highways, borders and airports, while the governments of the United States and Central American neighbors were cooperating.
The U.S. State Department said Guzmán’s “swift recapture by Mexican authorities is a priority for both the Mexican and the US governments.”
Osorio Chong urged Mexicans to help authorities find Guzmán.
“There will be no rest for this criminal,” he said. “There will be no break in efforts to rearrest him.”
The government released a recent photo of Guzmán, with his head and famous black mustache shaved off.
Guzmán was last seen right before 9:00 pm on Saturday, when he went into his private shower. After he failed to come out, guards found a hole 10 meters (33 feet) deep with a ladder inside.
The gap led to a sophisticated tunnel with a ventilation and light system that ended inside a gray brick building on a hill surrounded by pastures in central Mexico State.
A huge water pipeline project is under construction around the prison, which could explain why the tunnel’s construction went unnoticed.
Guzmán’s first escape was in 2001, when he slipped past authorities by hiding in a laundry cart in western Jalisco state. He had been captured in Guatemala in 1993.
Marines recaptured him in February 2014 in a pre-dawn raid at a condo in Mazatlán, a Pacific resort in Sinaloa state, with the DEA’s help.
Losing Guzmán was an embarrassing blow to Peña Nieto, who has won praise for capturing a slew of kingpins, with Guzmán — a diminutive but feared man whose nickname means “Shorty” — the biggest trophy.
Some U.S. prosecutors wanted to ask for his extradition following last year’s arrest, but Mexican officials insisted on trying him first.