NEWS

Gangland family at the end of the line

Theodoros Grigorakos, who died Monday night after being found semi-conscious in his Korydallos prison cell, was serving a 17.5-year sentence after being arrested in summer 1999 in a shootout with police in Alimos. Announcement of the cause of death was pending the results of toxicology tests but the coroner said Grigorakos appeared to have consumed a large amount of alcohol. Grigorakos’s family had been prominent in Athens’s organized crime scene for the some 15 years. In the late 1980s, his father Vassilis brought the family back from the US, where they had been living, to settle in the eastern Athens suburb of Ilioupolis. Vassilis and his eldest son Nikos, who were both killed in 2000, initially became involved in protection rackets but soon formed a large network of people from Athens’s established gangland, active in the southern coastal suburbs. However, in 1996, one of their victims had had enough. A cafe owner in Ilioupolis went to the police, leading to the arrest of Nikos and Theodoros Grigorakos, Giorgos Tsakoyiannis, Nikos Yiannopoulos, Yiannis Sotiropoulos, Thanasis Billis and his brother Dimitris. It is thought that while in custody, one of the accused informed on the others in a plea for leniency, but whatever happened, things had changed when they were all released in 1998. The original group had split into two gangs, which over the next few years would wage bloody battles for supremacy. Chronicle of a bloodbath The murders of Nikos and Vassilis Grigorakos were the culmination of a cycle of violence as rival gangland groups settled accounts with each other. In December 1998, Nikos Grigorakos sustained serious leg injuries when his car exploded as five kilos of dynamite were set off underneath it by remote control. In April 1999, a car belonging to Yiannis Sotiropoulos, a member of the rival gang, was booby-trapped in the same way. Sotiropoulos also sustained leg injuries. A series of ambushes using Kalashnikov rifles amazingly did not result in any deaths. In April 1999, a makeshift explosive device was set off outside the home of Theodoros Grigorakos, who escaped injury. About a month later, in a shootout in Alimos with the anti-extortion police squad in which he was injured, Theodoros was arrested. In December of the same year, someone booby-trapped a car parked outside the home of Giorgos Yiannopoulos, the father of Yiannis Yiannopoulos, considered to be the Grigorakos family’s rival. Both car and building sustained serious damage. Retaliation came three days later, when an explosive device was placed outside the Grigorakos’s apartment building in Aghios Dimitrios, causing massive destruction. A six-month «truce» ended in June 2000, when Nikos Grigorakos was shot three times in the head while waiting in a cafe outside the Athens courthouse for his father, who was giving testimony on drug charges. His father accused Giorgos Tsakoyiannis of the murder. A few weeks later, on July 15, it was Vassilis’s turn. He was shot at the wheel of his car while driving along Vouliagmenis Avenue. From his prison cell, his son Theodoros charged that Tsakoyiannis had ordered his brother’s and father’s killings and said that he had received threats against his own life. Tsakoyiannis was arrested a short while later on charges of complicity in Nikos’s murder. He denied any involvement. Also in the summer of 2000, Themos Kalapotharakos, once considered one of the toughest gangland bosses but who appeared to have withdrawn from the scene, was shot dead in an ambush. Nikos Kotridis, himself the victim of a murder attempt, was arrested along with Giorgos Tsakoyiannis for complicity in the murders of Nikos Grigorakos and Andreas Dounis, respectively. These events marked the beginning of what police believe is a long fight for supremacy in Athens’s gangland, a process that has not yet ended. In March 2001, attention focused once more on the Grigorakos family, when a close family friend, Susan Mary Aristeidi, a British woman, was killed by an explosive device that blew up inside a car she was driving. Police believe Aristeidi was taking the device to be planted at a target and that it had gone off by accident. They say the woman’s dog, which had been on the back seat, may have stepped on the remote control activator.