The Kidnapping of a Greek Tycoon

In this second installment, we pick up where we left off… The Principle, Pericles Panagopoulos, a Greek shipping tycoon and his CPO, George Sardelis, have been sandwiched in residential roadway by two vehicles and ambushed by gun-wielding kidnappers.

They smashed in the driver’s side window and have forcibly dragged them out of their vehicle and driven them to a distant, remote location near a field. We pick up here with the rest of this harrowing tale…

While at this remote location, I was told to turn my head away looking in towards the empty landscape. Later, I discovered that it was so that I did not see there was a getaway vehicle and they had put Mr. Panagopoulos in the trunk.

Suddenly they pulled me up, dragged me back to the spot where the van and the jeep were and took my handcuffs. They told me be a ‘’good boy’’ so they could handcuff me to a pine tree. There I was. Heart pounding. Head spinning. Adrenaline rushing. And with survival protector mode on high. And handcuffed to a tree. I was still wearing the hood, but I realized a third car taking off. Then silence… After taking a deep breath and calling out for Mr. Panagopoulos and getting no answer, I managed to slip off my hood. I could see no one around! I could not believe I was still alive!

Then BOOM! A big blast came from the vehicles nearby which had been on fire by the kidnappers to eliminate a trail. I knew I had to get out! I had to do something to get away from the blasting cars and get to a phone or a nearby police station to get assistance to Mr. Panagopoulos! I was left thinking that while I might’ve survived the kidnapping, I would surely die from the explosion!

The pine tree was about 4 m tall, I had to break a branch with my teeth so I can climb up as I was still handcuffed. The rush of adrenaline is powerful and it was in full drive here with enormous power with this life-threatening situation! The least of my worries at that point was some broken teeth! When I finally jumped off the tree, I just made way in a random direction without any insight as to where I was. I was just trying to find something or someone! I realized I was on a small rocky hillside and I could see an asphalt road about 500 m from where I was. After attempting 5 times to stop passing cars waving my handcuffed hands, a lady driver stopped because I shouted out “Police, Police!” I don’t blame the other drivers for not stopping as my appearance on a very cold January morning, with my clothes torn and handcuffed, would make anyone think twice about stopping to help.

She took me to the nearby police station and after a minute there, it dawned on me that I was out of the woods, the journey was just beginning.

The kidnapping was all over the radio and the tv news bulletins were announcing the breaking news story one after the other! What has happened to Mr. Panagopoulos?

The police station captain asked me if I was the driver he has hearing about in the news. As other policemen were trying to take off my handcuffs, I answered that “yes, I’m the driver of Mr. Panagopoulos.” He held his head with both hands and tried to get in control of the situation.

I asked to make some phone calls and I immediately called Mr. Panagopoulos’s residence to tell them what had happened. I spoke to his wife and told her that her husband had been kidnapped…

I then called my wife Helen and my two sons to calm them down as they were worried to death. Talk about emotional call phones!

After giving an account of what happened to the police captains, two black police jeeps loaded with special division policemen came and took me. They drove me back to the kidnapping scene so I could describe all the details of the incident as it is crucial for the police investigation to have on the spot details as soon as possible to the incident. After I explained every single detail, I could remember I left.

My next stop was the Panagopoulos residence. The whole house was full and the entire family was waiting for me. People from the office had come as well. Everyone was in anxious anticipation of the details.

I must’ve re-told the whole incident over 20 times trying to answer everybody’s questions. But after all the inquiries, all of thoughts were about the condition and the whereabouts of Mr. Panagopoulos came to the forefront. I never once thought about the possibility of him dying. The only thing I was worried about was his health issues and not being there to protect him.

I stayed at the family residence until the whole thing was over and until Mr. Panagopoulos was back at his house with his beloved ones again.

After not receiving any phone calls at all from any one of the kidnappers the first day ended, with me exhausted, sad, and questioning the whole state of affairs. I don’t know if having a professional bodyguard team would have helped to deal with this kind of kidnapping incident. But I am certain it would be a massive deterrent and that the kidnappers would have to think twice before making that choice! Nobody wants losses. Not even scumbags!

Post-Kidnapping, Day 2: It wasn’t until late the next day that Mr. Panagopoulos’s wife got a call from the kidnappers demanding the 30.000.000 euros ransom. They were angry at first knowing that police officers were everywhere in the house, next to the telephones, advising us, etc.

All the while during the time spent waiting, I continued to replay the incident over and over in my head on what went wrong and how I could have avoided this terrible incident. I was blaming myself for not being persuasive enough to have a team escorting us. If only I had done this. And if only I had done that and so on. I left those thoughts after a while because the only thing that mattered was getting Mr. Panagopoulos back to his home safe and in one piece.

Post-Kidnapping, Day 3: On the third day, the kidnappers called again telling us to follow their instructions to retrieve a proof of life DVD from a highway point. On it we would find a video of Mr. Panagopoulos speaking to prove that he was ok. He also requested on that DVD that I deliver the ransom money to the kidnappers.

Post-Kidnapping, Day 4: The fourth day was without any news at all and thoughts of things going south were on everyone’s mind.

Post-Kidnapping, Day 5: The fifth day came along and the negotiations picked up again. The police were trying to lower the ransom money, and yet the family wanted Mr. Panagopoulos back at any cost! The back and forth was excruciating, to say the least!

Post-Kidnapping, Day 6: The sixth day was the day the family managed to get the money from the bank. And indeed, a lot of money! No one had ever seen so much money ever. It was stuffed in six huge duffle bags because it had to be delivered in small notes. The smell of all that money is something I will never forget! The stuffed duffel bags were then locked and stored away in a small office and guarded all night.

Post-Kidnapping, Day 7: On the seventh day, we had instructions from the night before to wait on an early phone call from the kidnappers. The phone call came and provided instructions and directions for the drop-off. Mr. Panagopoulos’s wife asked the kidnappers if she could come along with me. And very bravely, she jumped in the car with me!

We left immediately loaded with 30.000.000 Euros and hopes to get our loved one back. We took an inconspicuous route and mode of travel to avoid the media which was all over the place.

We had instructions to stop every hour drive in various places to ensure that we were not being followed by any police. The instructions were to drive all the way from Athens to Thessalonica, a distance of 500klm. After driving for about 9 hours with multiple one-hour stops, we arrived at Thessalonica. The communication was of course done by a mobile telephone and each call we received was from a different number.

Minutes after our arriving at Thessalonica, the final call came from the kidnappers. They me to get on the phone. When I did, they were furious and swearing at me due to the fact that they spotted police vehicles tagging along our trail. I, myself, had spotted a police helicopter over us at one point. Once again, I was instructed to leave Thessalonica and to return to the residence.

After a five-hour drive, this time without all the stops, we were back at the house. What an ordeal because the disappointment meant another day in captivity for Mr. Panagopoulos!

Post-Kidnapping, Day 8: The eighth day came, and we got another early morning telephone call. This time we had instructions to follow the same route as the day before. About 150klm from departure from Athens, we got a call to get off the highway, go under a bridge, and onto a dirt road. The dirt road led to a dead-end.

I was then told to throw the money bags and the mobile we had under another small bridge at the end of the dead end-road. So, I did. And we left the drop-off point immediately.

Later that night, we received a call instructing us to go to an identified location to pick up Mr. Panagopoulos. Of course, the Police beat us there! Once at the police station, we finally saw that we had gotten Mr. Panagopoulos back! He was dressed in a tracksuit and had not shaved for all these days. He was very tired, but happy to see us again. They had given him my handgun without the magazine. After a couple of days at the forensics, I got my gun back.

The Aftermath of the Kidnapping. Three or four months after the incident, the kidnappers were caught. They were a team of around 18 people, nearly all known to the police with many convictions in murders, robberies and all sorts of violent behaviour. I then realized that the way things played out might’ve been the right choice under these circumstances.

If you cannot avoid kidnapping or any kind of life-threatening situation the only thing to do is manage to stay alive, collect as much evidence you can, and try to speak your way out of it.

Sadly, Mr. Panagopoulos passed away on 05/02/2019 from longstanding health issues.

Despite numerous training I had before the incident and the true passion in my profession, being in a real life-threatening situation like kidnapping is untrainable.

Sometimes, it all comes down to the one true and only fact of life: Protection is Prevention. 

As of today, March 2021, the ransom money still has not been recovered. All the members of the kidnapping team have finished their sentences and are out of prison living a normal life thanks to the Greek democratic law.

Final Remarks: I’m honoured and grateful to have lived, worked, and been side by side until the very end with a great businessman, a brilliant mind, an honest person who got so much pleasure in helping others. And most of all a gentleman. I will always honour our conversations, respect your name, and teach your knowledge. Until we meet again … Thank you, Pericles Panagopoulos.

I would also like to pass on my best regards to Mr. Tony Scotti for persuading me to tell my story.  

The Kidnapping of a Greek TycoonBy George Sardelis

Throughout the entirety of my career as a security officer and current CEO of Defensor Civitatis Security Services I have learned and taught many principles in security. Working in high-risk environments has benefited me to the utmost when it comes to making decisions and managing situations.

I founded Defensor Civitatis Security Services back in 2017. We successfully manage a wide range of clients, providing personalized security plans and structures rather than the basic and classic approach. We also pride ourselves on providing the best guarding personnel for each job and environment.

If you would like to connect in a professional capacity or want to know more about what my company offers, contact me at [email protected] or go

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