NEWS

Costas Passaris caught

Romanian police yesterday arrested Greece’s most wanted fugitive, Costas Passaris, in connection with a robbery in which two people were killed at a foreign exchange dealership on Sunday. Passaris, 26, is wanted in Greece for murdering two police officers when he escaped from them during a visit to a hospital last February, as well as a series of other violent crimes. A botched effort to arrest Passaris in Athens on July 31 cost the head of the Greek police his job and the fugitive’s arrest had become an obsession for Greek officers. Passaris’s capture is the result of close cooperation between Romanian police and their Greek colleagues, who had tipped them off to his presence in Romania and had helped identify him before Sunday’s robbery in downtown Bucharest, according to police sources in Athens. An elite police unit raided a Bucharest apartment searching for the robbery suspects – a man and a woman – yesterday. Gunshots were exchanged as the police moved in, said Col. Mihai Gheorghe, a spokesman for the Bucharest police, according to The Associated Press. We knew who he was and we sent a rapid reaction police force, 10-man strong, to arrest him, he said. We used a stun grenade and he got scared and surrendered. No one was injured. Passaris is now in police custody. He is being held on two counts of murder for Sunday’s robbery and one count of illegally carrying and using a weapon. He faces life in prison. We believe Passaris is the killer, said Gheorghe. But the investigation is still ongoing and he has not yet been interrogated. The attack on Sunday shocked Bucharest residents. In Romania, guns are illegal and robberies involving such weapons are extremely rare. Police are still searching for the woman who took part in the robbery. In August, the police chief in Athens had to resign after an operation to capture Passaris failed and authorities lost track of him. But police kept up the pursuit and a few weeks ago they learned from a gang of Romanian criminals whom they arrested in Corinth that Passaris had escaped to Romania. The 26-year-old fugitive is believed to have walked across the Greek-Bulgarian border, using paths known to smugglers, such as those in the Romanian underworld with whom he has worked regularly. In addition to these acquaintances, Passaris had lived in Romania in the past and knew the language. Greek police believe he left the country in mid-September. They informed their colleagues in Romania and about 20 days ago they were informed that a suspect fitting Passaris’s description was in Romania. Three senior Greek police officials, led by Attica security police chief Giorgos Angelakos, went to Romania in great secrecy. (Officials say the mission was so secret that the three officers did not even tell their families where they were going). In the small town of Arteaua, the Greek officers and their Romanian colleagues were able to locate and photograph the house in which Passaris was staying and came to conclusion that he was indeed the suspect. Angelakos returned to Athens while the other two stayed behind to plan Passaris’s arrest. Last night the formal procedures to identify Passaris were to be carried out in Bucharest. Greece’s extradition request is expected to be filed soon. Security forces. Some 4,000 police, fire brigade and coast guard employees demonstrated through the centre of Thessaloniki yesterday to demand higher pay and shorter working hours, as well as new legislation on the circumstances under which they can use their service firearms.