Police in Ecuador reportedly have launched a massive manhunt after an inmate that prosecutors are describing as "the most-wanted prisoner" vanished from a maximum-security facility in Guayaquil.
Jose Adolfo Macias, who goes by the alias "Fito" and is the leader of the Los Choneros criminal organization, was serving a 34-year sentence for crimes including drug trafficking and murder, according to Reuters.
Fernando Villavicencio, an Ecuadorian presidential candidate who was killed in August last year following a rally in the country’s capital of Quito, had accused Los Choneros and Macías, whom he linked to Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel, of threatening him and his campaign team days before the assassination.
Prosecutors said they would investigate "the alleged escape" of Macías from the prison in Guayaquil, Reuters reported.
"We're grateful for the courage and commitment of the law enforcement forces, who, in an operation involving more than 3,000 people, have intervened in the prison in search of the most-wanted prisoner," the news outlet quoted presidential spokesman Roberto Izurieta as saying at a Sunday press conference.
Los Choneros has been connected to extortion, murder and drug trafficking crimes in Ecuador and also has been accused of controlling some of the country’s prisons, Reuters added.
Images captured Sunday at the Zonal 8 prison showed Ecuadorian soldiers bearing rifles as they arrived for an inspection of the complex.
Macías was moved into a maximum-security facility there three days after Villavicencio’s assassination last year.
Then-president Guillermo Lasso said the relocation of Macías was meant "for the safety of citizens and detainees."
Villavicencio received at least three death threats in the lead up to the fatal shooting, his campaign manager said last August.
Patricio Zuquilanda told the Associated Press at the time that the threats against Villavicencio, who said during his final speech that he would fight corruption and imprison more criminals, resulted in one detention after they were reported to authorities.
"Here I am showing my face. I'm not scared of them," Villavicencio had said in a statement before his death, naming Macías by his alias, "Fito."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.