The head of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s hitmen, a confessed murderer nicknamed “Popeye,” was released from prison after helping prosecutors convict a former justice minister.
John Jairo Velasquez Vasquez has confessed to killing 300 people and organising the killings of 3,000 others, but he walked free from the Combita high-security prison in central Colombia after completing 22 years of his 30-year sentence for murder, police and judicial sources said.
The hitman was convicted for the murder of presidential hopeful Luis Carlos Galan in 1989 but won release by turning state’s witness against former justice minister Alberto Santofimio, a rival candidate in the 1990 presidential election who was convicted of ordering Galan’s killing.
Galan, who took a hard line against the country’s powerful drug cartels and was the favourite to win the election, was shot dead in a public square in a town outside Bogota as he prepared to give a speech.
The assassination was carried out by gunmen loyal to Escobar, the blood-soaked founder of the Medellin cartel.
Now 52, “Popeye” Velasquez has confessed in numerous media interviews to crimes ranging from kidnapping former president Andres Pastrana to murdering his own girlfriend, all on his late boss’ orders.
He was granted “conditional release … for a trial period of 52 months and 22.7 days,” said a judicial order seen by AFP.
Popeye said the drug war was unwinnable because there would always be people like him.
“People like me can’t be stopped. It’s a war,” he told Jochen-Martin Gutsch and Juan Moreno of Der Spiegel. “They lose men, and we lose men. They lose their scruples, and we never had any. In the end, you’ll even blow up an aircraft because you believe the Colombian president is on board. I don’t know what you have to do. Maybe sell cocaine in pharmacies. I’ve been in prison for 20 years, but you will never win this war when there is so much money to me made. Never.”
Popeye helped Escobar industrialize cocaine production, seize control 80 per cent of the global cocaine trade, and become one of the richest people on the planet by kidnapping, torturing, and murdering hundreds of people who obstructed the Medellín cartel’s business.