Probe finds racketeers worked freely in jail

Details from a huge case file on a massive extortion ring directed from inside Korydallos Prison indicate that the racket members had absolute freedom of movement inside the high-security jail as well as access to heavy weaponry and significant financial support, Kathimerini understands.

Six of the 15 suspects arrested in connection with the alleged activities of the extortion racket – said to be the biggest known to have operated in Greece – were given conditional release on Monday. The freed suspects include the wife of Panayiotis Vlastos, the jailed head of a crime syndicate who is believed to have run the Korydallos racket with two other convicts, Yiannis Skaftouros and Vassilis Stefanakos. Vlastos’s wife was released after posting 50,000 euros in bail and was banned from leaving the country, according to police sources who said that 332,000 euros was seized from her home.

According to the case file, the racket made an easy profit from inside Korydallos, preying on wealthy inmates such as Yiannis Sbokos, a former Defense Ministry official serving time for money laundering. Skaftouros and Vlastos are alleged to have pressed Sbokos for 10 million euros in protection money. Another target was Sotiris Emmanouil, the former managing director of Hellenic Shipyards.

The pressure led to some of those targeted fearing for their safety, with Sbokos, for instance, sending a letter to police authorities last August seeking protection.

The racket is also alleged to have planned a series of bomb attacks and contract killings, targeting judges and politicians, among others. One bomb targeted the home of Sbokos’s sister in Nea Erythrea, northern Athens.

Much of the information contained in the case file has come from the testimony of Vlastos’s cousin, who spoke to police due to fear for her own life. The cousin, who was not named, is alleged to have constructed many of the bombs used in attacks ordered by the racket. According to the case file, she alone had dozens of kilograms of explosives and more than 20 pistols and assault rifles at her disposal.

In a related development, Vlastos allegedly told a relative that he knows who murdered two Golden Dawn members in November 2013. Vlastos allegedly claimed not to have been involved in the murders of Giorgos Fountoulis, 26, and Manolis Kapelonis, 22, but to have supplied the motorcycle helmets used by the two men involved in the shooting outside Golden Dawn’s offices in Neo Iraklio, northern Athens, which was claimed by a group called Militant Popular Revolutionary Forces.

The investigation into the extortion racket has implicated politicians, including former Defense Minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, in the racket’s activities. But the ex-minister, who is serving time for money laundering, on Monday vehemently denied claims of his involvement as “groundless” and politically motivated.