Colombian police have arrested the former chief hitman for Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, John Jairo Velasquez, a.k.a. “Popeye.” Velasquez, who admits killing 250 personally and arranging the murders of 3,000 others, was taken into custody Thursday in Medellin.
Velasquez, who was released from prison in 2014 after serving a 23-year sentence for his drug-related killings, was arrested on charges of extortion and conspiracy.
“He was trying to recover assets, money that he left in the hands of narcos years ago,” a spokesman for the Colombian prosecutor’s office said on Friday. “He was threatening to kill people if they did not hand over the money and other assets he claimed they had.”
“I’m a professional killer, I kill for money,” Velasquez said recently in a Russian documentary film about the Medellin drug cartel. “I also killed out of love and respect for Pablo Escobar.” He added that he has no regrets about the murders. “I would do it again,” he adds.
Velasquez become a controversial figure in Colombia after he came out of prison. Far from being an outcast, he was seen by many as a hero. On the streets of Medellin, people shook his hand and asked to have photographs taken with him.
Velasquez profited from his celebrity status by writing two books, starring in an action film, and being involved in the production of Alias J.J., a Netflix show based on his life in prison. He’s also become an unlikely political activist with his hit YouTube channel where he routinely criticized the Colombian government and preaches anti-corruption.
Two weeks ago he made headlines when he Tweeted threats to kill supporters of one of Colombia’s presidential candidates running in today’s election.
Among those Velasquez killed was Escobar’s ex-girlfriend, Wendy Chavarriaga Gil, who Escobar believed had become a government informant. At the time, she was also Velasquez’s girlfriend, whom he calls the “love of my life.” Killing her, he said, was “just part of the business.”
The investigation that led to last week’s arrest was carried out by the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Medellin Police Department and U.S. immigration agency ICE, authorities say.
Since his release from prison, authorities have been attempting to seize assets belonging to Velasquez.