MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexican officials said they are investigating the meeting that then-fugitive drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman held with actor Sean Penn and actress Kate del Castillo in October to see if any crimes were committed.
But government spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said late Tuesday that it is the possibility of illegal acts, rather than specific people, that authorities in Mexico are looking into.
"We investigate actions, we don't investigate people," he said. "The attorney General's Office is investigating this event and others involving contacts that Joaquin Guzman had while he was on the run."
Carlos Barragan y Salvatierra, a professor of law at Mexico's National University, said there would be little ground to prosecute Penn or Del Castillo, unless money or gifts changed hands.
"If during the dinner El Chapo gave them money, or jewels, or he gave them money for the movie or any other transaction, they could be charged with money laundering," Barragan y Salvatierra said.
But he noted, "meeting with a fugitive or criminal is not a crime, even if the law says we should report crimes, there is no punishment for not doing so."
Asked about scrutiny of his controversial meeting with the fugitive drug lord at a hideout in rural Mexico, Penn on Monday would only say: "I've got nothin' to hide."
Mexican officials have said the meeting helped them track down Guzman, who was recaptured Friday following a bloody shooting with marines in the city of Los Mochis in Guzman's home state of Sinaloa. Images released to a Mexican newspaper showed that Penn and Del Castillo were under surveillance.
Del Castillo has not publicly commented on the meeting. But a federal official said Tuesday that Guzman appears to have been infatuated with del Castillo, apparently referring to her by the code name "Hermosa," or "Beautiful." The drug lord also wanted a second meeting with her according to the official, who was not authorized to be quoted by name.
Sanchez, however, did criticize what he said were attempts to glorify drug traffickers. "We very much regret the acts of any citizen who collaborates with organized crime, because many times drug traffickers have been stereotyped as people who have their good side, or who in some way do good things."
"They paint them as heroes, and attractive and generous," Sanchez said. "The reality is that these types of criminals have raped women, have killed children, have tortured women and men."
A Los Angeles, California based clothing store has begun advertising flashy blue, baroque-print shirts like the one Guzman wore in a photograph with Penn. The company advertised it alongside Guzman's picture, with the slogan "Most Wanted ... Shirt." In the past, polo shirts like one worn by drug trafficker Edgar Valdez Villarreal, "La Barbie," gained broad popularity in Mexico.
Penn had his own implied criticism for Mexican forces, expressing surprise that a soldier at a checkpoint waved his vehicle through on the way to the meeting with Guzman in October. But the federal official said that action had proved "very useful" in the hunt, suggesting it was part of the plan.
The official said that authorities were following Penn and Del Castillo's movements all the time after they arrived in Mexico to meet with Guzman.
Barragan y Salvatierra said that meeting with Guzman for journalistic purposes would be a solid defense.
"In the case of a meeting for an interview or to prepare a film, it is even less (prosecutable), because an actor could argue that even though they're not journalists, they were doing journalistic work, and thus the law would protect them."
July's escape by Guzman was the elusive drug lord's second from a Mexican maximum security prison and deeply embarrassed the government of President Enrique Pena Nieto and created friction with Washington, which had sought his extradition to the United States.
This time around, Mexican officials have said they are willing to extradite Guzman but warn the process could take a year. In the meantime, they plan to take extraordinary measure to prevent a third escape.
Late Tuesday, a Mexican federal official said the government is moving Guzman constantly from cell to cell. Guzman has been moved eight times at the Altiplano prison since his recapture Friday, he said.