Page last updated at 17:28 GMT, Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Guards charged over prison break


A local resident captured part of the escape on video

Four prison guards and a pilot have appeared in court in Athens on charges of complicity in Sunday's escape by two inmates from a prison by helicopter.

Bank robber Vassilis Paleokostas and Albanian contract killer Alket Rizaj had escaped from the same prison using the same method 20 months earlier.

They escaped from Korydallos prison after a helicopter landed on the roof and a rope ladder was thrown to them.

The jail's director and the inspector of prisons have already been dismissed.

The incident has proved highly embarrassing for the government, which had pledged to increase security after the last jailbreak.

A massive manhunt has so far yielded no trace of the fugitives.

'Participation from within'

But the justice ministry has suspended eight prison guards, four of whom appeared in court on Tuesday accused of complicity in the escape. They face up to four years in prison if convicted.

Korydallos prison
Prime Minister Karamanlis has called a meeting to discuss the escape

A lawyer for the guards, Dimitris Tsovolas, has accused the authorities of looking for scapegoats and threatened to sue the Justice Minister, Nikos Dendias.

On Monday, Mr Dendias announced that he had ordered an examination of the bank accounts of all guards in the section where Paleokostas and Rizaj were being held to see if any had been bribed.

"The government believes that the operation could not have succeeded without participation from within. The government decided to take measures," Mr Dendias said after a cabinet meeting.

The cabinet also decided to introduce legislation forcing anyone buying pre-paid mobile phone Sim cards to provide identification, after officials said the escapees may have used them to co-ordinate with their accomplices.


The helicopter used in the escape was found by a highway in the northern Athens suburb of Kapandriti. The pilot was found bound and gagged, and had a hood over his head.

He told police that the helicopter had been chartered by a couple who wanted to go from the town of Itea in central Greece to Athens, but who later threatened him with an automatic rifle and forced him to fly to the prison.

However, he was later arrested and charged.

The road on which the helicopter was found leads towards Greece's central mountain range, an area where Paleokostas, 42, was able to hide with impunity during previous years.

In June 2006, both men managed to escape when a hijacked helicopter landed in Korydallos' central yard at exercise time. On that occasion, the guards failed to react, because they thought it was a visit by prison inspectors.

The spectacular operation was masterminded by Paleokostas' brother Nikos, who has since been captured and jailed.

Paleokostas himself was recaptured in August 2008, two months after being named by police as a suspect in the kidnapping of a business tycoon George Mylonas, who was released after his family paid a 12m-euro ($15m) ransom.

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