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A Dominican man convicted of kidnapping and murdering five young people of Chinese descent has escaped from a Panamanian prison for a second time, presumably with help from police, authorities in the Central American nation said Tuesday.
The Ministry of Public Security said there was an operation underway to search for Gilberto Ventura Ceballos, the man blamed for one of the country’s most horrifying crimes.
It was another black eye for a penitentiary system that recently came under criticism following a December prison inmate massacre that was the country’s deadliest.
Authorities did not say exactly when Ventura Ceballos escaped from the Mega Joya lockup on the outskirts of Panama City - part of the same prison complex where the massacre took place.
According to early information, the last time he was known to be inside was 10:30 p.m. Monday, the ministry said.
"There are signs registered by the prison's security cameras that there was participation by police officers assigned to security in the penitentiary,” it said in a statement.
Ventura Ceballos was sentenced along with an accomplice to 50 years in July 2018 for the abduction and killing of the five university students about a decade ago. He acknowledged murdering them and burying them beneath the floor of a home in the town of La Chorrera west of Panama City, authorities say.
Investigators said at least two were buried alive.
Ventura Ceballos escaped the first time in December 2016. He was recaptured in Costa Rica the following September.
"We are so disappointed,” said Judith Chen, whose daughter was one of the victims, on Tuesday. "This man has the number of Panama's security institutions.”
Fifteen people were killed in the Dec. 17 massacre at the prison complex in gunfire between jailed members of the same gang in a cellblock housing over 500 inmates.
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