Top shipping tycoon seized by gunmen

A massive police hunt was under way yesterday after one of the country's most prominent shipping magnates was kidnapped at gunpoint near his home in the affluent coastal suburb of Kavouri. Pericles Panagopoulos, 74, was abducted, along with his driver, by three gunmen who used a van and a jeep to corner the victim's car on a quiet road, according to a laborer who claimed to have witnessed the incident. One of the assailants smashed the driver's window with the butt of an assault rifle and forced Panagopoulos and his driver out of the vehicle before bundling them into a waiting car, police were told. Shortly after, the driver was abandoned in a remote spot in Koropi, east of Athens, and handcuffed to a tree. He managed to free himself and ran to a nearby house. «Three masked men smashed my window and forced us out of the car - they told us they would not hurt us and only wanted money,» he said. Police later found two burnt vehicles in Koropi. A police spokesman, Panayiotis Stathis, appeared to rule out a terrorist attack. «There is no evidence that this was carried out by anything more than common criminals,» he said. There had been no ransom demand by late last night. But Stathis stressed that Panagopoulos was frail. «The victim has a serious health condition that requires daily medication,» he said. Panagopoulos, the founder of the country's largest ferry company Attica Holdings,which owns Superfast Ferries, kept a relatively low profile and did not have bodyguards, local residents said. «I would see him in his car with his driver but he never had bodyguards,» Dimitris Tsialdartzis, a porter at a nearby complex of residences told Kathimerini. Police were last night examining closed-circuit television tapes. The shipping magnate's abduction is the third high-profile kidnapping in the past six months. In June the 49-year-old chairman of the Federation of Industries of Northern Greece (SVVE) and CEO of the metal products firm Alumil, Giorgos Mylonas, was kidnapped outside his home in Thessaloniki. Vassilis Palaiocostas, Greece's most wanted fugitive at the time, was charged with his abduction. Epameinondas Gerasimopoulos, a 51-year-old doctor kidnapped from his home in Varkiza last month, has yet to be found.