(Reuters) - Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn on Friday rejected Mexico’s claim that his secret meeting with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was crucial to the drug kingpin’s recapture, saying officials were trying to put him in the crosshairs of the feared cartel.
Penn also told talk show host Charlie Rose that he regrets the fallout from the Rolling Stone article based on his interview with Guzman. Their meeting in a jungle hideout was the first interview anyone scored with the fugitive drug lord, and Penn said he had hoped it would spur a broader discussion on the drug war.
In Penn’s first major television interview about the meeting, Rose asked the actor whether he believed Mexico President Enrique Pena Nieto’s government had deliberately sought to credit him with Guzman’s capture to put him at risk from the Sinaloa Cartel.
“Yes,” Penn replied.
“There is this myth about the visit that we made, my colleagues and I with El Chapo, that it was... ‘essential’ to his capture,” Penn said.
“We know the Mexican government, they clearly were humiliated by the notion that someone found him before they did,” added Penn.
The actor, who has won Oscars for “Mystic River” and “Milk,” said he met Guzman “many weeks” before his arrest, in a location far from where the kingpin fell into police hands in northern Mexico six months after staging a spectacular prison break through a tunnel in his cell floor.
“I have a terrible regret,” Penn said in the interview recorded on Thursday in California. “I have a regret that the entire discussion about this article ignores its purpose, which was to try to contribute to this discussion about the policy on the war on drugs.”
“Let me be clear. My article has failed,” said Penn.
Rolling Stone published Penn's article on Saturday, a day after Guzman's recapture. The piece cited the drug lord boasting about smuggling drugs into the United States, and about laundering ill-gotten gains. (rol.st/1PXKv56)
Guzman’s lawyer on Wednesday accused Penn of lying, and said he should be called to give evidence.
“He (Guzman) could not have made these claims... Mr Guzman is a very serious man, very intelligent,” Juan Pablo Badillo said. “Where’s the proof? Where’s the audio?”
Neither Penn’s publicist nor Rolling Stone have commented on Badillo’s claims. The excerpt of the Rose interview, published ahead of its full airing on CBS on Sunday, did not address the lawyer’s comments.
A government spokesman said on Tuesday that Mexico was not directly investigating Penn nor his companion, actress Kate del Castillo, but rather the circumstances around the meeting.
(This story has been corrected in paragraph 12 to insert dropped name “Juan Pablo”)
Reporting by Laila Kearney and Jill Serjeant; Editing by Simon Gardner and David Gregorio