Notorious Greek Robin Hood Eludes Police

Megan Freeman

While students at Miramonte aspire to be as successful as Bill Gates, inmates at Korydallos, the high security Greek prison, dream of being as successful as Vassilis Paleokostas.  The notorious bank robber, kidnapper, and escape artist is still at large more than a year after his breakout—but that isn’t what makes him notable. The Greek people see him as a kind of modern day Robin Hood because of his vow never to injure a civilian, the reports of his kind and courteous manner (even from his kidnapping victims), and the fact that he distributed part of his bounty to poor Greeks.  And just to top it off, he didn’t just escape prison like any other lowlife criminal.  Paleokostas escaped in style, via a hijacked helicopter landing in the prison yard—twice.

Paleokostas’s story began much earlier, in the 1990s, when a jury convicted him of kidnapping and bank robbery. He was thrown in Korydallos while his brother, Nikos Paleokostas, roamed freely around the Greek countryside pulling off heists and other shenanigans, and sharing his wealth just as his baby brother had before.

Nikos heard of Vassilis’s predicament and decided to organize a jailbreak that would shock the world.  In June 2006, Nikos commandeered a helicopter to land in the middle of the prison courtyard, stunning the guards.  Right on schedule, Vassilis and his trigger-happy Albanian sidekick, Alket Rizai, slipped into the helicopter and flew off into the Greek sunset.  The aircraft landed in a cemetery where the men drove off on motorcycles waiting there.

Vassilis laid low for a couple years before organizing more hijinks.  In June of 2008 he struck again, this time abducting George Milonas, the prominent Greek CEO of an aluminum extrusion company called Alumil.  Milonas’s wife reportedly paid a 12 million Euro (16 million dollars) ransom for her husband’s safe return.

Bad luck for Vassilis followed later that year when police tracked him down and captured him again.  This time they sent him to a different prison so he could not escape so easily. While in prison, he was rumored to have been involved in the kidnapping of a Greek shipping magnate, this time for an 18 million Euro (24.4 million dollars) ransom.

In a ridiculously Hollywood-esque scheme, the crook arranged another daring escape.  This time he acted without Nikos’s help, who had been arrested for 16 accounts of armed robbery.

On Feb. 21, 2009, police transferred Vassilis back to Korydallos to await his next-day trial for the first great escape.  But before guards could move him to the courthouse, yet another helicopter hovered over the prison and tossed down a rope ladder.  Vassilis rushed over to the ladder and the pilot took off to a swell of cheers from the other inmates.  This time the guards fought back and managed to shoot a hole in the helicopters fuel tank, although it wasn’t significant enough to hinder the criminals.  A woman with an AK-47 assault rifle returned fire from the fleeing aircraft, but injured no one.

Nikos Paleokostas and Rizai are still in prison.  Vassilis remains at large.