Five on trial for jailbreak

As four prison guards and a helicopter pilot appeared in a Piraeus court yesterday to face charges of negligence for failing to stop Sunday’s audacious carbon-copy prison escape by two notorious criminals, the government came under pressure to make amends for the unprecedented security lapse. Testimony given by the defendants in court gave conflicting accounts of Sunday’s escape from Korydallos Prison by serial robber Vassilis Palaiocostas and his Albanian accomplice Alket Rizai, a repeat performance of a June 2006 breakout. Meanwhile sources said that the men had entered the exercise yard for an unscheduled break, just five minutes before the helicopter arrived, adding that Piraeus police officials had warned prison staff the pair would try to escape. In court, one guard claimed that the helicopter pilot had aimed a gun at him while the convicts climbed a rope ladder to the hovering helicopter. The pilot countered that he had been threatened by his passengers, a man and woman, who had held a submachine gun and a knife to his head. Other testimony highlighted a series of security lapses. The warden of the wing where the fugitives had been kept said he had deemed it safe to have the pair take their exercise time together, away from other inmates. A search of the defendant’s home unearthed 15 cellphones and 12 bank books. The lawyer for the four guards accused authorities of seeking scapegoats to resolve the matter quickly. Meanwhile tensions ran high within ruling New Democracy. Some cadres described the breakout as a «total humiliation,» while others accused Justice Minister Nikos Dendias, who has been in the job less than two months, of recruiting ministry staff based on party-political criteria and underestimating risks. Opposition PASOK called for a parliamentary debate on security, covering prison shortcomings, social unrest and the emergence of a new terror threat. «It is clear that the government cannot tackle the current security crisis,» PASOK leader George Papandreou said in a letter to Parliament Speaker Dimitris Sioufas.

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