Prison escape trial begins

An Athens court yesterday began hearing the trial of Vassilis Palaiocostas and Alket Rizai, who escaped from Korydallos Prison in February 2009 in a helicopter jailbreak that was a repeat of a 2006 breakout from the same prison. The trial began in the absence of Palaiocostas, who remains at large. Rizai, who was caught last November, was in court, as was his girlfriend, an Albanian couple and a businessman, all believed to have played a role in organizing the escape. The defendants face a string of charges, including membership in a criminal gang, abduction and commandeering an aircraft. The pilot of the helicopter used in the breakout testified yesterday. Ilias Theofilopoulos said a couple who had chartered the aircraft threatened him with a knife and a hand grenade, forcing him to fly to Korydallos. He said Palaiocostas indicated where to land, in Polydendri, eastern Attica, before putting a bag over his head and fleeing.

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