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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 September 2006, 22:00 GMT 23:00 UK
Police capture key Greek fugitive
By Malcolm Brabant
BBC News, Athens

Nikos Paleokostas is seen a Greek police handout photo
Nikos Paleokostas is blamed for a string of kidnappings
Police in Greece are celebrating the capture of the country's most wanted man, who has the reputation of being something of a Robin Hood figure.

Nikos Paleokostas had been on the run for 16 years after breaking out of the maximum-security prison in Korydallos.

The 45-year-old was arrested after a dramatic car chase in central Greece.

Mr Paleokostas, who is blamed for a string of armed bank robberies, never killed anyone and has reportedly shared some of his loot with the poor.

His arrest has given police increased hope of finding his brother, Vassilis, who in June escaped from Korydallos in a helicopter commandeered by Nikos.

Helicopter jailbreak

Nikos Paleokostas' handsome mugshot, with a square jaw and full head of curly hair, can now be removed from Interpol's most wanted list.

The helicopter that was used in the June jailbreak
Mr Paleokostas' escape was engineered by his brother

The image now being displayed by police is of an insignificant, balding, middle-aged man looking rather sorry for himself, with a bruised left eye and a sling for the broken arm sustained when his stolen car overturned as he tried to outrun a police patrol.

Officers are waiting for doctors' permission to interview him.

They want to know about his hiding places since he broke out of Korydallos in 1990 and the whereabouts of his brother.

Mr Paleokostas engineered his Vassilis escape by threatening the pilot of a rented helicopter and forcing him to land in the exercise yard of the prison.

Mr Paleokostas' other exploits include the lucrative kidnapping of the owner of a factory making a Greek dessert called halva.

The businessman was released after 1m ($1.89m) was paid in ransom.

Mr Paleokostas is also alleged to have carried out a string of armed bank robberies.

Several times he came close to being detained.

Once, during another car chase, a tyre blew out but he ran into a forest and eluded his pursuers.

'Well-intentioned bandit'

Mr Paleokostas was regarded as armed and dangerous; and, when his luck finally ran out on a farm track, he was in possession of three powerful guns and a slew of ammunition - but he never killed anyone.

This, and the fact that has reportedly shared some of his loot with the poor of central Greece, helped engender a Robin Hood-style image in a region which, historically, has looked fondly upon well-intentioned bandits.

Mr Paleokostas' intimate knowledge of the woods, mountains and goat tracks undoubtedly kept him free for such a long time - but no one snitched on him.

According to Greece's public order ministry, a 500,000 ($945,000) reward will go unclaimed because the arrest happened as the result of detective work rather than a tip-off.


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