Mexico to give away ‘El Chapo’ safehouse in lottery

This Feb. 23, 2014 file photo shows one of the properties that was interconnected by tunnels in the drainage system which the infamous drug kingpin Joaquin Guzman Loera known as “El Chapo” used to evade authorities through an escape hatch in Culiacan, Mexico. In addition to properties seized from other previous owners, Mexico’s lottery is giving away this property on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Adriana Gomez, File)

The house former drug kingpin Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán fled in 2014 when Mexican marines had him surrounded underwent some changes recently as the Mexican government prepared to give it away in a national lottery.

The surveillance cameras that covered every angle of the modest home’s exterior were removed. And the hole under a bathtub that Guzmán had slipped through to reach a network of tunnels was covered with a concrete slab.

The house had been abandoned for years and the marines did some damage when they searched it, so repairs were necessary.

INDEP’s website lists it only as “Casa en Culiacán.” It’s about 2,800 square feet and located, perhaps appropriately, in a neighborhood called Libertad, or “Freedom.” The government values the two-bedroom home at $183,000.

Guzmán was extradited to the United States, tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison in July 2019.

INDEP officials, who declined to be identified because they were not authorized to speak, said they were surprised the house was getting attention. It is not luxurious. There is no swimming pool, none of the ostentation that characterizes other narco properties in Sinaloa.

Lottery tickets for sale are displayed in Mexico City, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. Mexico’s lottery is giving away property seized from drug lords a prizes, among them a house belonging to Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, on Wednesday’s draw. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

People nearby said they didn’t know who their neighbor was.

“We never knew anything, we never knew who lived there, we never saw anyone,” said one neighbor, who quickly cut off the conversation. Many locals aren’t interested in speaking of Guzmán or even saying his name in a place where the Sinaloa cartel remains powerful.

INDEP tried to auction off the home last year. It started the bidding at about $130,000. There were no takers.

Now, López Obrador is giving it away as part of the lottery, with the drawing scheduled for Wednesday, the day before Mexico celebrates its Independence Day. It’s the first time Mexico’s national lottery is giving away property. The proceeds are to go to Mexico’s Olympic athletes.

“This raffle is very important and I call on all the people, those who can help buying a ticket, or two or three,” López Obrador said at his daily news conference last week.

In downtown Mexico City, lottery ticket vendors said sales have been good.

Jorge López said he’s been selling 100 to 120 of the $12 tickets daily since last week. “Right now, it’s selling very well.” He said the value of the 22 prizes, many well above that of the Culiacan house, is drawing attention. Some people ask about who the properties’ previous owners were, but not many, he said.

Back in Culiacan, across town near the center, Ignacio Mariscal said he supports the lottery. “Those houses didn’t serve anyone; those people had them,” Mariscal said. “I see it as perfectly fine. It’s to help people in need.”