Sun, May 15, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Colombian politician arrested in assassination

BLOODY WAR A former justice minister and senator with ties to drug trafficking is being charged in the 1989 assassination of presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan



The man who directed hit teams for drug kingpin Pablo Escobar fingered a disgraced politician on Friday as being behind the 1989 assassination of leading presidential candidate Luis Carlos Galan.

Alberto Santofimio Botero, a former senator and justice minister, was arrested Thursday for the killing of Galan -- a case that rocked Colombia and deprived the nation of a crusader against drug traffickers and corruption.

John Jairo Velasquez, who led Escobar's army of assassins, said in a telephone interview from prison with RCN TV that he was present at a meeting with Escobar and Santofimio when the politician recommended Galan be killed.

"Alberto Santofimio Botero had the idea of killing Luis Carlos Galan," Velasquez said. "Alberto Santofimio recommended that he be killed because the man, with the weapons of the state, would go after Pablo Escobar."

In 1989, Santofimio was running for the Liberal Party nomination for the 1990 presidential elections. Galan was a rival candidate, charismatic and likened to John F. Kennedy. Velasquez said Santofimio showed no hesitation when he told Escobar that Galan be killed.

"He was 100 percent calm ... he was removing a political enemy from his path," Velasquez said.

For Escobar, the assassination of Galan meant he would be eliminating a candidate who would likely extradite drug traffickers to the US for trial. The Medellin cocaine cartel, which Escobar headed, fought a bloody war during the 1980s to pressure the government to bar extraditions. Cartel assassins killed judges, an attorney general, Cabinet ministers, journalists and police. Hundreds more Colombians died in cartel bomb attacks in Bogota in Medellin.

Galan, who was shot dead while campaigning south of Bogota, was so far ahead in the polls for the 1990 presidential elections he was virtually assured of victory. His campaign manager, Cesar Gaviria, ran in his place after the attack, and was elected president. Immediately after Galan's assassination, then President Virgilio Barco retaliated by reinstating extraditions.

Santofimio, a former justice minister, was flown to Bogota on Friday aboard a police plane from a town in western Colombia where he was arrested. Authorities first tried to bring him to the capital on a commercial flight, but passengers rebelled, saying they did not want to travel with the disgraced politician.

Santofimio, 61, faces 40 years in prison if found guilty in Galan's murder. Santofimio was long known as the "political godfather" of Escobar, who was shot dead by police in 1993. In 1995, Santofimio was arrested for taking money from drug traffickers.

While several members of the hit team that killed Galan were arrested within days of the assassination, for more than 15 years Colombians have wondered who was behind the killing. Rumors swirled that politicians and security forces were involved.

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