Murder of Ecuadorean candidate ‘planned from jail’

Prosecutors investigating the murder of Ecuadorean presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio say his assassination was planned from jail.

They have asked for six suspects – five Ecuadoreans and one Colombian – to be charged in connection with the murder.

Villavicencio, 59, was shot dead as he was leaving a campaign rally in the capital, Quito, days before the presidential election in August 2023.

He had denounced the influence of gangs and promised to tackle them.

In the weeks leading up to the election, the politician had received death threats and been given a security detail.

But he continued to campaign and was gunned down by a group of assailants on 9 August outside a school in the north of Quito.

In a court hearing on Tuesday, Prosecutor Ana Hidalgo described how the investigation had unfolded.

She said that the gunman who is believed to have fired the fatal shot was himself killed in a shoot-out with police after Villavicencio’s assassination.

With the help of CCTV footage, police managed to identify one of the other assailants and traced him to a house in the east of the city.

There, they arrested six Colombian suspects and seized weapons, ammunition and grenades.

Weeks later, the six were found dead in El Litoral prison, where they were being held in pre-trial detention.

Forensic experts said they had suffocated. Spanish newspaper El País quoted a source as saying that they had been hanged.

A seventh suspect was killed the following day in another jail.

Prosecutors say that the seven men killed in jail were the assailants who attacked Villavicencio, but suspect that they were hired gunmen and that the order to kill the politician came from inside an Ecuadorean jail.

Prosecutors added that they had traced messages sent to one of the gunmen to an inmate in Latacunga jail.

Both that inmate and a woman whom prosecutors accuse of providing logistical support to the assailants are thought to belong to the Los Lobos criminal gang.

Prosecutors said the remaining four suspects were their accomplices – a court will decide later on Wednesday whether to charge them.

Los Lobos (The Wolves) is estimated to have 8,000 members and is one of the most powerful criminal organisations in Ecuador.

Many of its members are in jail and the gang is thought to have instigated some of Ecuador’s bloodiest prison riots.

The gang is thought to have links to the powerful Jalisco New Generation cartel in Mexico.

There has been an explosion in gang violence in Ecuador in recent years which has led President Daniel Noboa to declare a state of emergency.

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