The longest hostage situation in Greece has finally ended with success. Greece’s Police raided a tow yard and freed Cretan businessman Michalis Lembidakis. He was held chained in an area four kilometers away from the city of Rethymnon on the way to Chania. The kidnappers held the businessman hostage for 6 months, had initially demanded a ransom of 100 million euros. Seven locals have been arrested, police is seeking for another 7-8 people involved in the case.
The police raid took place on Monday morning. There was only one guard in the the tow yard, a national of FYROM, was was immediately arrested.
Beyond suspicion: The hostage was kept in a tow yard in on the national road Rethumnon-Chania.
Michalis Lembidakis was found on a mattress on the floor in a special room above the accountant’s office. His hands were tied on his back, his foot tied with a chain. The 53-year-old hostage had lost a lot of weight. He is a shadow of himself, skin and bones, weights just 45 kilos, some media underline. His health condition is described as good. He was taken to a hospital in Heraklio for medical checks and psychological support.
His first words to police were “Thank you!”
Michalis Lembidakis was found in the tow yard near the Zourida bridge, at the road parallel to national road Rethymnon-Chania.
Police has already arrested 8 people including the owner of the tow yard as well as a teenager girl 16 to 17 years old, who operated as ‘messenger’ between the kidnappers and Lembidakis’ family. She is the daughter of one of the arrestees. Police estimates that up to 15 people were involved in the kidnapping. Apart from the FYROM national the rest of the kidnappers are allegedly from Crete, one was involve din another kidnapping case in the past.
State broadcaster ERT reported that according to unconfirmed information, two of the kidnappers were former employees at the Lembidakis company that produces plastic panels for green houses.
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Michalis Lembidakis was kidnapped in the afternoon of March 30 2017. He had arrived at the airport of Heraklion after a business trip abroad. He first drove to the family factory with a taxi. After a while he took his own car to drive home. On his way to Kalessa, the kidnappers blocked his car and took him. They put the two car they used on fire. The cars were stolen.
The kidnappers initially demanded a ransom of 100 million euros. The family could not bring up such an amount. During the long period of kidnapping, negotiations were interrupted with long intervals of silence that skyrocketed the family’s agony. There were times of long tormenting silence, when the family had also most lost hope.
During this period, the kidnappers had lowered their demands down to 70 million, then to 50 million and finally to 30 million euros.
The family could only manage to collect 10 million euros. According to media reports at that time, there was cooperation with authorities in order to bypass the restrictions of the capital controls.
A couple of days before the police operation, the kidnappers had lowered their demands down to 18 million euros.
The police seems to have traced some of the kidnappers almost some time ago.
The first piece of the puzzle was found when during a police control on a vehicle in July found that neither the driver nor the two passengers had mobile phones with them. It turned out they had disposed them short time before. Lembidakis’ kidnappers would use only one-use card phones to communicate with the family.
A raid in a neighboring house of a 23-year-old suspect took place in a mountain village of Sfakia beginning of August. The pretext for the operation was that police was searching for illegal migrants. Police had indications that the hostage was kept there. The operation did not bring any fruits.
However, according to To Vima.gr, the 23-year-old suspect is among those arrested on Monday. Among those involved in the kidnapping are: a criminal formerly charged for bomb, an owner of a real estate agency, two shopkeepers in Rethymnon, a farm owner near Sfakia, the tow yard owner and the 23-year-old suspect who was accused for firing gunshots at a woman in the past.
Police investigates also the role of a man of Cretan origin, who was involved in the kidnapping of shipowner Perikles Panagopoulos in Athens in 2009.
Police estimated that Lembidakis was held in the area of Fragokatselo in south Crete before he was transferred to the tow yard in Rethymnon a couple of days ago.
According to some media, police discovered the lair in Rethymnon Sunday noon.
A well-thought plan was necessary before the police raid in order to avoid setting the hostage’s life at risk.
The raid took place in cooperation of local police and a special team that had arrived from Athens.
Police estimates that the kidnappers had held the hostage also in other places before they moved him to the tow yard. It is estimated, they had used another four lairs.
Crucial for the further investigation and more arrests is also the victim’s testimony.
According to Greek media, it is the first case of kidnapping where the victim was freed without any ransom to have been paid.