July 15, 2015 / 7:14 PM / 4 years ago

U.S. law enforcement, Mexico agents met on Guzman escape: Mexico official

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - U.S. law enforcement officials met with agents of the Mexican attorney general’s office this week to share information related to the escape from prison of drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and coordinate efforts to apprehend him, a Mexican government official said on Wednesday.

Police keep watch outside the Altiplano Federal Penitentiary, after drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman escaped, in Almoloya de Juarez, on the outskirts of Mexico City, July 12, 2015. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo

Representatives from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Administration met Mexican law enforcement officials in Mexico City on Monday, the government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Mexico has long sought to maintain its independence from the United States on matters of national security, but has taken fire from critics for not having previously extradited Guzman to the United States.

U.S. prosecutors had said they would seek his extradition, and media reports earlier this year citing unnamed sources suggested that Washington had made a formal request for Guzman’s extradition.

But no announcement of a formal request was ever made public and the Mexican attorney general’s office said it had no plans to hand him over because he would serve his time in Mexico.

Other sensitive issues have also bubbled beneath the surface.

Mexico’s Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong this week denied media reports Mexico had been tipped off by U.S. authorities ahead of time that Guzman was planning an escape.

The neighboring countries would be “cooperating permanently” to try and catch Guzman again, the Mexican official said, and were discussing everything relevant to the operation.

The official also said he had no information on the suspected whereabouts of Guzman, who headed the powerful Sinaloa cartel before his capture in February 2014 in the northwestern city of Mazatlan.

The cartel has smuggled billions of dollars worth of drugs into the United States and has been blamed for thousands of deaths.

On Wednesday, Mexican marines, who led the operation to capture Guzman last year, raided a house in Mazatlan as part of the effort to track him down, a spokesman for the Sinaloa state attorney general’s office said.

The kingpin’s escape on Saturday night from a maximum security prison through a tunnel leading into his cell has massively undermined President Enrique Peña Nieto’s efforts to crack down on organized crime.

Mexican security chiefs were aghast and the government said the breakout could only have taken place with the help of prison guards and officials, and fired the prison’s director.

Guzman previously broke out of prison in 2001.

Reporting by Dave Graham, editing by G Crosse

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