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Top Colombian drug hitman 'Popeye' is freed


Picture of John Jairo Velasquez Vasquez, aka 'Popeye', former leader of sicarios of Pablo Escolar and confessed murderer of about 250 people, taken at Combita prison, in Boyaca, on January 18, 2013. A Colombian judge on August 22, 2014 released Velasquez Vasquez --who was serving 22 years for the murder of Colombian politician Luis Carlos Galan-- on parole. Photo - AFP

The head of Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar's hitmen, a confessed murderer nicknamed "Popeye," was released from prison Tuesday after helping prosecutors convict a former justice minister.

John Jairo Velasquez Vasquez has confessed to killing 300 people and organizing the killings of 3,000 others, but 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 favorite 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 aged 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.

Television news cameras were not immediately able to get a clear shot of him during his release.

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