GREECE’S most wanted man has been arrested and linked to the kidnapping of a prominent industrialist, prompting a double celebration for police.
Vassilis Palaiokostas was nabbed in northern Greece this week, two years after his audacious prison escape in a hijacked helicopter.
He has been unveiled as the mastermind behind the kidnapping of multi-millionaire businessman George Mylonas, a crime that has ultimately brought him undone.
“We arrested Greece’s most wanted fugitive last night. Evidence shows he is also involved in Greek businessman George Mylonas’s kidnapping,” a police official confirmed.
Police finally caught up with the escapee after raiding a house in Salonica in connection to the abduction of Mr Mylonas.
Three hooded men had snatched Mr Mylonas, 49, as he drove to his home in the same city in June.
He was released unharmed 13 days later, after his family paid a reported $19 million ransom.
Investigators tracked down his kidnappers after one of the men used traceable bills to buy a car.
The arrest has ended a remarkable chapter in the country’s criminal history.
Palaiokostas, 44, and his brother, Nikos, 47, are lifelong criminals with a penchant for armed robbery and extortion who are regarded as Robin Hood figures.
Helping to curry favour during years on the run, they had shared some of their ill-gotten gains with the poor.
In 2006, Vassilis Palaiokostas was languishing behind bars in the maximum-security Korydallos Prison, located outside Athens and home to 2000 of the country’s most dangerous prisoners.
He was serving a 25-year sentence for bank robbery and for kidnapping the owner of a factory that made halva, the Greek dessert.
The businessman in that case was released unharmed after the payment of a $2 million ransom, laying the foundations for Mr Mylonas’s kidnapping and a much larger payout.
In an episode ripped from the script of a Hollywood blockbuster, his brother and an accomplice hijacked a sight-seeing helicopter and forced the pilot to land inside the prison.
Vassilis and another inmate boarded the helicopter as his brother threw smoke grenades to provide cover. Confused guards initially believed they were undergoing a surprise inspection and then declined to fire a shot in anger.
“We cannot shoot down a helicopter flying over busy streets and houses,” one guard explained.
Under threat from a pistol and grenade, the terrified pilot dropped the group at a nearby cemetery, where witnesses saw them flee on waiting motorbikes.
Vassilis’s brother, Nikos, knew the prison inside out – he had broken out of Korydallos in 1990 and was still on the run 16 years later.
Nikos had originally been jailed for a series of bank robberies but was also charged in absentia with the same kidnapping as his brother.
He was captured soon after breaking his brother out of prison.
Police nabbed him after a dramatic car chase through the mountains of central Greece, and he is serving an 87-year sentence.
Although he had a stash of weapons on him when arrested, Nikos was no killer and had to be caught without the aid of informers, with a million-dollar reward going unclaimed.
Vassilis remained on the run until police investigating Mr Mylonas’s kidnapping hunted him down this week.