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Latest update : 2009-02-23

Greece's most notorious criminal and an accomplice escaped a top-security prison near Athens by climbing a rope ladder to a waiting helicopter on Sunday, prompting several officials to resign. The two men had also escaped in 2006.

AFP - Greece's most notorious criminal escaped Sunday by helicopter from one of the country's top-security jails for the second time in less than three years, prompting a string of top officials to resign.
In a scene not out of place in a Hollywood movie, Vassilis Paleocostas and his Albanian accomplice Alket Rizai escaped on a rope ladder which had been lowered by a helicopter to a prison in Korydallos, near Athens, where both men had been moved after their earlier break-out, according to police.
The 43-year-old Paleocostas and Rizai, 32, were then lowered to two getaway cars, a pilot -- who claimed to have been abducted and coerced into taking part in the daring escape plot -- told police.
Bewildered Greeks scratched their heads and wondered how the pair not only pulled off the brazen and noisy escape under the noses of prison guards once, but twice.
Amid the outcry, the country's enraged justice minister stormed off to the jail to the north of the capital, demanding that heads roll.
Paleocostas -- who had been serving time for bank robbery and kidnap -- and convicted murderer Rizai both caused red faces among prison bosses back in June 2006 when they were also airlifted to freedom by helicopter.
Although Rizai was caught later that year and Paleocostas was picked up in 2008, the experience seems nonetheless to have given the two jailbirds a sweet taste of freedom and the pluck to attempt the exact same escape a second time.
A skill for daring prison breaks -- but perhaps not for staying free -- appears to run in Paleocostas' family.
It was his brother Nicos who helped the two break free the first time round after escaping from the facility himself, only to be recaptured in September 2006.
With two notorious criminals on the loose and a public relations nightmare on his hands, Justic Minister Nicos Dendias demanded Sunday that an investigation into the incident be launched.
The minister told local media that he had travelled to the jail in Korydallos, to the north of Athens, where he forced a number of officials to resign.
Among the casualties following Dendias' visit were two high-level officials from Greece's justice ministry and several senior figures in the prison service, including the jail's director and the inspector for Greece's penitentiary system.
The helicopter used in Sunday's jail break was later found abandoned in the Kapandriti region, to the north of Athens.

Date created : 2009-02-23