Escobar’s associate, “Popeye” detained

Jhon Jairo Velásquez Vásquez ‘Popeye’, the head of a group of Medellín cartel killers, was arrested by the Colombian police on charges of plotting and extortion. The United States admitted that it has helped with running the investigation on him.


Escobar’s right hand

‘Popeye’ left the prison on a parole in 2014 after serving 23 years for killing Luis Carlos Galán, a Colombian presidential candidate, in the late 1980s. The sentence was relatively low, given the fact that this former military man admitted in a press interview to having killed 300 people and ordering 3000 other assassinations. Among the ones he executed were his ex-girlfriend and his best friend from the same criminal group. He killed them following the instructions of the head of the most dangerous drug cartel in ColombiaPablo Escobar.

“In our world you become prepared to do something similar. Death for bandits can come at any time. People like us are more prepared for this than others”, he said in an interview with the magazine “La Semana”. Pablo Escobar was shot by the police in 1993 and ‘Popeye’ is the only living cartel killer who knew the cartel’s secrets. After his arrest, he willingly cooperated with the police, describing the activities of the criminal group.

When he was released from prison, he asked for protection, claiming that there was a million dollar bounty on his head. Soon he settled in a luxurious district and started to drive around the city in expensive cars. He also decided to use five minutes of his fame and wrote a behind-the-curtain book about his cooperation with Pablo Escobar. It was used as a basis for a Netflix series. ‘Popeye’ himself started his YouTube channel titled ‘Repentant Popeye” which currently has over 700,000 subscribers. Throughout that time, he was present in the social media and his post aroused a lot of controversy.

Under police surveillance

The criminal was arrested at the end of May this year, when he went with his lawyer to the public prosecutor’s office to check whether his case was under investigation. A few days earlier, Iván Cepeda from the left-wing party Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA) had informed the prosecution that ‘Popeye’ threatened Gustavo Petrov, the presidential candidate on Twitter.

“The Colombian police is very professional, and the army is an army of the people. I know that they will fight the petristas collective… In an extreme case I do not believe in any scenario… It will be up to us to fight them fiercely and decisively.. using force,” Velásquez Vásquez wrote.

This was not the only charge against ‘’Popeye’. On December 9th last year, the Colombian prosecution demanded that his parole is lifted after he had been noticed at a birthday party where the most dangerous drug trafficker in the country for 20 years, Juan Carlos Mesa (known as Tom), was arrested. Mesa was considered the successor of Pablo Escobar. He also led the “Bureau”, a criminal network that was responsible for extortions. At that time Jhon Jairo explained on Twitter that going to a party was not an offence: “There were families. It was a birthday party. In a hotel. I was in a hotel. In the wrong place”.

Besides, he called his critics “miserable rats” and declared that he was not afraid of coming back behind the bars. “I am a warrior and I behave like one. I am also a public figure and I can go anywhere”, he wrote. He also announced that he would stop cooperating with the authorities in the investigation on the Medellín cartel: “Look for someone else to help you, I have reached to this place”.

Money from the Mafia

The US acknowledges that it has helped Colombian police investigate ‘Popeye’ and have contributed to detaining several other criminals in recent months. Thanks to this cooperation, the Colombian police have evidence that ‘Popeye’, contrary to what he says, has met with ‘Tom’ on three other occasions.

However, an anonymous interlocutor told the “El Tiempo” daily that “Popeye” had been protected by “Tom” and that they had worked together to get the money and property that had been left in the hands of the former cartel members or which had been given to them for security reasons. In his opinion, it is also possible that Juan Carlos Mesa, fearing extradition to the United States, handed over evidence of his cooperation to the police.

Soon, the Colombian authorities revealed that some victims of extortions were in fact seeking help from the police. One family was receiving threats for weeks, until Velásquez Vásquez targeted the 60 year-old mother of the debtor. He ordered that the house and the car are signed over to him, claiming that they did not belong to them. The woman reported the meeting to the police and made hidden-camera videos as evidence.

As if that weren’t enough, ‘Popeye’ will also have to explain his hiding the assets of mafia. He has just been deprived of houses worth more than 2 million dollars, which, according to the documents, belonged to his family members.


A photo taken by nuedesign shows the streets of the city of Medellín.

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