NEWS

Police hunt fugitives as jail guards held for complicity

As a massive police hunt got under way yesterday for a notorious criminal and his Albanian accomplice, who escaped from Korydallos jail on Sunday in a spectacular repeat of their 2006 helicopter breakout, four prison guards and the helicopter pilot were detained. Justice Minister Nikos Dendias called for the bank accounts of the four guards, who face charges of complicity, to be opened amid speculation that the operation had been funded using part of the 6-million-euro ransom Vassilis Palaiocostas netted after kidnapping a prominent Thessaloniki industrialist last year. As ruling conservative cadres argued about who was to blame for the stunning security lapse, reports said an inmate had warned prison guards about an impending escape by Palaiocostas and that the serial robber’s Albanian accomplice Alket Rizai had beaten up a fellow inmate for talking about his plans to escape. Meanwhile Dendias heralded much-delayed security measures for prisons. These include waiving the right to anonymity for owners of prepaid card cellphones so police can trace suspects’ calls, the more selective recruitment of prison guards and better training for all prison staff. A spokesperson for the union of prison guards referred to «massive shortfalls» in training. Government spokesman Evangelos Antonaros appeared to lay the blame for the lapse on the previous PASOK government. «Parts of the (prison) system have been so undermined that the many measures that were implemented (after the first escape in 2006) proved ineffective.» Anastassis Papaligouras, who had been justice minister at the time of the 2006 outbreak, said he had reacted then by implementing 16 measures. But he noted, «Upgrading security infrastructure unfortunately cannot substitute the crucial human factor.» Focusing on another gray area that facilitated Sunday’s escape, transport experts blamed lax regulations governing rented helicopters. Firms that rent out helicopters are obliged to submit a flight plan to the Civil Aviation Authority before every trip but the authority has no way of tracking the course of rented helicopters and can only learn of any problems if the helicopter fails to reach the planned destination. Also, helicopter pilots are not obliged to check passengers picked up after leaving the airport. This allowed the woman believed to have organized Sunday’s escape to board the Interjet helicopter in Itea, central Greece, bearing weapons. Police have asked citizens with any information about the fugitives to telephone 210.641.1111. Somber mood in government, as opposition parties slam failings Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis called an emergency meeting of the Inner Cabinet yesterday to discuss the fallout from Sunday’s escape at Korydallos Prison. Ministers agreed with the view that Vassilis Palaiocostas and Alket Rizai were aided by guards. Justice Minister Nikos Dendias confirmed this suspicion when he left the meeting. «It is the government’s view that this could not have succeeded without involvement of those inside,» he said. Dendias did not come under any pressure to resign, having taken up the post less than two months ago. However, this did not ease any of the pressure on the government. PASOK leader George Papandreou argued that Greece had become a laughing stock and said of the government, «The longer they stay, the more damage they will do.» He also questioned how there can be consensus between the parties, which the government has demanded, when ND is in such a state. Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) chief Alekos Alavanos said the situation was «farcical» and repeated calls for a cross-party committee to examine public order issues. Popular Orthodox Rally (LAOS) spokesman Kyriakos Velopoulos said that the country’s security was being «stripped naked.»