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El Chapo’s former safe house raffled off to mystery winner

A drug cartel safehouse where the Mexican crime lord known as El Chapo once escaped down a secret tunnel has been raffled off to a mystery winner.

Joaquín Guzmán, then leader of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, is said to have slipped away via a ladder hidden under his bathtub while Mexican marines battered down his steel-reinforced door in 2014.

But the lucky holder of raffle ticket number 1,438,619 will need to do some significant remodelling if they want to repeat that trick, after the Mexican government covered the tunnel with a concrete slab and new tiles.

The former safehouse, having previously failed to sell at auction with a starting bid of $130,000, was one of 20 impounded properties up for grabs in Mexico’s independence day lottery on Wednesday. The proceeds will go to athletes who participated in the Tokyo Olympics.

Ernesto Prieto, director general of Mexico’s Institute to Return Stolen Goods to the People (Indep), said the raffle’s purpose was to turn “onerous properties with heavy maintenance costs” into “a tangible benefit for society”.

Photos released on Tuesday show that this was no luxurious gangster’s paradise. It is a far cry from the $3.8-million Mexico City mansion also given away, let alone drug lord Pablo Escobar’s palatial Naples Estate in Colombia, with its now-wild hippopotamuses.

Instead, Guzmán’s old bolthole is an unassuming 2,800 sq ft home in the quiet neighbourhood of Culiacán, the Sinaloa Cartel’s hometown, which had stood empty for years after the marines damaged it in February 2014.

It is a bare-walled bungalow with low ceilings and bars on the windows, across the road from a school and surrounded by a tall metal fence. Indep has torn out the security cameras that used to watch its every corner and given it a fresh coat of white paint.

After his previous prison break Guzman was re-caputured in 2014

Officials told the Associated Press that they were surprised it had got any attention, and neighbours said they hadn’t known who owned it. Indep’s website simply listed it as “Casa en Culiacán”.

It does, however, have one important amenity: a storm drain right next door that allowed Guzmán to build his tunnel under the bathtub, linking it to six other homes.

The 64-year-old gangster, whose nickname means ‘Shorty’ in Spanish, was famed for his use of underground tunnels, not only to evade arrest but also to move drugs underneath the US border, earning him the sobriquet “lord of the tunnels”.

Six days after the raid in 2014, he was arrested in the city of Mazatlán. Yet the following year he escaped from a maximum security prison via another tunnel, carefully dug from inside a cinderblock house on a recently-bought scrap of land into a specific shower stall.

Guzmán is now serving a life sentence in the US for drug trafficking, murder, kidnapping and various other crimes.

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