A shady businessman believed to be a key player in a violent underworld gang linked to the abduction of shipping magnate Pericles Panagopoulos in January denied a raft of charges brought against him yesterday, outlining instead his manifold business dealings, which ostensibly include work on many projects for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. Giorgos Tromboukis also appeared to attempt to protect Panayiotis Vlastos, a convicted criminal who is thought to be the gang’s leader, by suggesting that the latter had played only a minor role. «I thought that Vlastos had probably been a mediator to launder the money [from Panagopoulos’s kidnapping], as I didn’t think him capable of organizing the abduction,» Tromboukis is alleged to have told an investigating magistrate in his testimony, adding that he had received several bags of cash from Vlastos. According to sources, Tromboukis suggested that Apostolos Petrakis, another of the 16 suspects, had played «the leading role» in the gang’s activities. Vlastos is among several suspected ring members due to testify on Monday. Other suspected ring members who testified yesterday reportedly denied all the charges outright and failed to provide any leads for the ongoing investigation. The only insights that authorities did glean regarded the business activities of Tromboukis. The subcontractor reportedly claimed to have been involved in many pre-Olympic infrastructure projects and to have been earning between 100,000 and 150,000 euros a month. An extract from his testimony reads as follows: «In 2000, my work was going really well, as I finished a project at [Athens International Airport] as a subcontractor to the German construction company.» Tromboukis also claimed to have been involved in the construction of the Athens appeals court building, sections of the Egnatia Highway, Attiki Odos and a section of the Athens tram. In a related development yesterday Justice Minister Nikos Dendias suspended the warden of a jail in Crete who is alleged to have worked with the crime ring.