Sixteen people were charged on Saturday with criminal offences related to the kidnapping in January of ship-owner Periklis Panagopoulos and other crimes, based on evidence collected by a police investigation lasting more than six months.
Ten individuals belonging to a gang that police say was behind the abduction appeared before a public prosecutor on Saturday morning, while five suspected members of the gang are already in prison. The 16th member of the gang is still at large and is being sought by police for other offences.
All 16 were charged with forming a criminal organisation and acting in concert to carry out the kidnapping, while they also face charges of homicide and moral complicity in connection with the previously unsolved murder of George Gousios in Penteli in 2008.
Other charges brought against them included that of causing explosions (again in connection with the Gousios murder), supplying and manufacturing explosives and aggravated cases of theft as a habitual practice and a means of livelihood, as well as charges of moral complicity for all the above.
The case has now been assigned to the 25th examining magistrate, who has summoned the suspects to present their testimony on Wednesday and Thursday.
The 74-year-old ship-owner was abducted in mid-January and was released unharmed a week later, after his wife had paid the kidnappers a ransom. The ship-owner was the second wealthy Greek businessman to be the victim of a kidnapping in the space of six months, after the northern Greek industrialist George Mylonas in June 2008.
A police announcement released earlier on Saturday said that the gang was also involved in executing contract killings and other serious criminal offences, in addition to the kidnapping of Panagopoulos.
Attica Security director Brigadier Yiannis Dikopoulos said the case had been cracked by the Crimes against Life department, while the National Intelligence Service had provided advanced surveillance equipment and assisted in actions that helped to locate the suspects.
According to police, 10 members of the gang were involved in the kidnapping, while the remaining five were already in prison and a sixth was on the run, being sought for other offences.
Police identified the gang’s leader as Panagiotis Vlastos, an inmate serving time at Trikala prison for homicides, protection rackets and other offences.
Other suspected members of the criminal gang that are already in custody were identified as Vassilis Stefanakos, Ioannis Skaftouros, Konstantinos Andreou and Servos Dejan alias Boban Ivanov or Rifstoschi.
The 10 individuals arrested on Saturday, who were directly involved in the kidnapping, were identified as Apostolos Petrakis, Emmanouil Skarlatos, Aristomenes Kleftoyiannis, Georgios Katsaganis, Georgios Tromboukis, Ioannis Theodorakis, Haralambos Moustakas, Ioanna Vlastou (the widow of Spyridonas Vlastos), Polytimi Georga (the partner of Skaftouros), and Ioannis Thodis.
The gang member still at large was identified as Panagiotis Soiledis or Soidelis.
Of the above, the ones that physically carried out the kidnapping or were present included Petrakis, Katsaganis, Kleftoyiannis and Moustakas, while secondary roles were played by Tromboukis, Skarlatos, Vlastou and Thodis and Panagiotis Vlastos masterminded the operation from inside prison.
In addition to the kidnapping, the group had carried out contract killings and several murder attempts and bomb attacks – including a contract to kill the police officers on their trail and the head of the police department coordinating the investigation.
According to Dikopoulos, the group organised and carried out the murder of businessman George Gousios on September 12, 2008 and attempted to set a large bomb in the home of a business man in Arta but were prevented by the Attica Crimes Against Life department, which received a tip-off and arrested two members of the gang – Ivanov and a Bulgarian – while they were carrying the bomb.
The gang is also accused of planning the contract killing of the Trikala prison governor and social worker because they had refused to grant Vlastos prison leave, and of making preparations for the murder of a nightclub owner that was averted through information obtained by police. The intended victim was then smuggled out of the country to Germany, so that he could be protected without forcing police to reveal what they knew and thus exposing their investigation.
The group had also apparently planned the murder of a Malandrinos prison inmate that was an arch enemy of Vlastos and head of a rival criminal gang, intending to kill him when he was taken to court for trial by placing large quantities of explosives in a booby-trapped car and showering him with bullets from Kalashnikov rifles. That plan fell through, however, when the prisoner’s transfer was moved to another date.
Other planned murders attributed to the group included the killing of three individuals that were part of the rival criminal gang and of a businessman in Corinth, while they had also planned to place a bomb in a supermarket in Menidi in order to blackmail the owner.
Police said they were continuing their investigation to uncover additional criminal actions by the same gang.
Alternate Interior Minister Christos Markoyiannakis and Greek Police Chief Vassilis Tsiatouras arrived at Attica Security headquarters on Saturday afternoon and congratulated the detectives that cracked the case.