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A notorious Ecuadorian gang leader disappears from prison and authorities investigate whether he escaped – The Associated Press

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — A convicted leader of one of Ecuador's most powerful drug gangs has disappeared from the prison where he was serving his sentence, and authorities are investigating whether he escaped from another facility like he did a decade ago.

Ecuadorian authorities reported on Sunday that Adolfo Macías, alias “Fito” and leader of the Los Choneros gang, was not in his cell and that they had not found him on Monday or explained what happened.

The country's corrections office said Monday that it planned to provide more information about the case. Police Commander General César Zapata told the media on Sunday evening that Macías had disappeared from his cell and that an investigation was underway.

Ecuador's prosecutors tweeted on Sunday that they were investigating the case as a likely “escape of a prisoner.”

Macías was convicted of drug trafficking, murder and organized crime. He was serving a 34-year sentence at La Regional prison in the port of Guayaquil and was scheduled to be transferred to a high-security facility in the same city on Sunday.

Los Choneros is one of the Ecuadorian gangs blamed by authorities for a surge in violence in recent years, which reached new heights last year with the assassination of presidential candidate Fernando Villavicencio. Authorities say the gang has ties to Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel.

The politician had said that the criminal group led by “Fito” had threatened him, but so far authorities have not directly accused Macías or his group of being behind Villavicencio's murder.

A few days after Villavicencio's murder, Macías was transferred from La Regional to the maximum security prison at the same major detention facility in Guayaquil, but within less than a month he was returned to the same lower security prison without any explanation.

In February 2013, “Fito” escaped from a high-security facility but was recaptured a few weeks later.

Los Choneros and other similar groups linked to Mexican and Colombian cartels are fighting over drug trafficking routes and control of territory, including inside detention centers, where authorities say at least 400 inmates have died since 2021.

Experts and authorities have acknowledged that gang members effectively rule from prison, and Macías is said to have continued to control his group from the detention center.

President Daniel Noboa, heir to a fortune built through the banana trade, took office in November and said his government's main goal was to reduce violence.