Six Colombian suspects in the August assassination of Ecuadoran presidential candidate and anti-corruption crusader Fernando Villavicencio were killed in prison on Friday, officials said, just a week to a key election runoff.
Ecuadoran President Guillermo Lasso, who is on a private trip to New York and was due in South Korea yesterday for an official visit, called off his foreign trip to immediately return to Ecuador to handle the incident.
The SNAI prisons authority announced that “an event occurred” in the Guayas 1 prison in Guayaquil “resulting in six dead people.”
It later added that the deceased were “of Colombian nationality and accused of the murder of former presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio.”
Villavicencio, a 59-year-old journalist, was gunned down on Aug. 9 as he left a campaign rally in the capital, Quito, 11 days ahead of the first round of voting.
After news broke of the prison deaths, Lasso said he was returning home.
“In the next few hours I will return to Ecuador to attend to this emergency. Neither complicity nor cover-up, here the truth will be known,” Lasso wrote on X, formerly Twitter.
The public prosecutor’s office said that its agents, along with police and the military, were “executing security protocols ... in light of the disturbance that occurred Friday afternoon.”
It added in a statement on X that “in the coming hours, specialized military personnel will carry out the first raids and reconnaissance of Cellblock 7, where the incidents originated, to take control of the situation.”
Authorities have provided no further details about the killings, which came just days before the second round of voting in the presidential election on Sunday next week.
The runoff is to be between lawyer Luisa Gonzalez — a close associate of former Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa, of whom Villavicencio was a fierce opponent — and 35-year-old upstart Daniel Noboa.
The assassination of Villavicencio, a centrist who had been polling in second place, rocked Ecuador days ahead of the Aug. 20 national elections, in which corruption and the country’s declining security situation were major themes.
Six Colombians with long criminal records were arrested shortly after, while a seventh was killed at the scene of the crime.
Villavicencio had carried out scores of investigations, including exposing a vast graft network that led to Correa being sentenced to eight years in prison.
Correa fled the country to avoid jail time and has been living in exile in Belgium for six years.
Villavicencio had drawn the ire of gangs and drug traffickers with his reputation for speaking out against the cartels, many of which operate out of prisons across Ecuador.
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