Inmates tunnel escape from Paraguayan prison near Brazil border

Inmates tunnel escape from Paraguayan prison near Brazil border
Source: AFP via Getty Images

At least 75 inmates – many of them said to be members of a notorious Brazilian gang known as the First Command of the Capital, or Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) – reportedly escaped from a Paraguayan prison in the border city with Brazil, Pedro Juan Caballero, on January 19.

It is believed the prisoners are still roaming freely within Paraguayan territory and may return to Brazil, where authorities from both countries are waiting to arrest them.

Brazil’s Justice Minister Sergio Moro tweeted in Portuguese on January 19: “We are also available to assist Paraguay in the recapture of these criminals. Paraguay has been a great partner in the fight against crime.”

Brazilian escapees

According to Brazilian authorities, 40 of the escapees are Brazilian nationals and their identification, which includes names and photos, has been passed on to border police. It is believed that the majority of these belong to the PCC.

The Brazillian cartel has about 30,000 members and is involved in drug and arms trafficking. The group operates throughout Brazil and neighboring countries, including Paraguay, Bolivia and Colombia. Police discovered the entire block which held PCC members to be emptied out following the news of the prison break.

Prison staff’s possible involvement

According to authorities, the prison’s director has been immediately dismissed due to alleged complicity in the prisoners’ escape. The prison guards are believed to have been fully aware of the prisoners’ plan to escape, said to have taken several weeks, according to Paraguay’s Justice Minister Cecilia Perez. “It’s not possible that nobody saw anything in all this time,” Perez said. The penitentiary director in Pedro Juan Caballero and six other prison officials were fired following the incident on January 19.

Officials discovered at least 200 bags filled with freshly dug earth inside the escapees’ prison cells. Paraguay’s Interior Minister Euclides Acevedo said the tunnel itself may have been a ruse to cover up prison officials’ complicity in the incident. Acevedo claims that many of the inmates may have been allowed to walk out of the prison’s main gate.

Perez has said the fight against organized crime isn’t only against the Brazilian gang, but also a nationwide crackdown on corruption. She says authorities received information that an escape was being planned and at least $80,000 had been offered to prison officials by the drug cartel.