In 1999, George Sardelis started his close protection career as a security driver for the President and CEO of a major Greek shipping company.
In this two-part article, Mr. Sardelis details the events leading up to, during, and after the kidnapping of his Principal, Pericles Panagopoulous. It was a typical cold January morning back in December of 2009. The week before we had just come back from Gstaad and this was the first working day after the holidays. Even though it was a Monday, the mood was great.
We had just departed the President’s residence and I was driving onto a narrow road, where just two cars could narrowly pass. About 300m in, I suddenly saw a small van trying to make a U-turn a few meters away from me. I stopped the car and looked into the rearview mirror. What I saw was another car, a Jeep, with two people inside wearing black hoods! There was a small road that I had passed, and they were waiting for us there behind a bush.
Then what seemed like a split second, simultaneously, three men dressed in black army clothing with A-K 47s plunged out from the van in front of us. They were shouting at me telling me to open the doors.
I quickly assessed my options. I could not step on the gas because the van had blocked the road. And I couldn’t back into the car behind me as it had come so close, I wouldn’t have any ram power. And the thought of pulling my handgun was immediately rejected because in case of crossfire, it could mean not only my life, but Mr. Panagopoulos life as well!
Since I did not open the doors as requested, the sound of the window bursting came crashing into my ear. The kidnappers used a large sledgehammer to smash the driver’s side window. Two blows were all it took! Not being able to do much at this point, I turned to Mr. Panagopoulos and attempted to calm him down while trying to figure out what this was all about. At this time, politically speaking, Greece was in chaos and the country was experiencing numerous problems with terrorist organisations, including some left-wing extremists’ groups.
In the car, I was leaning over Mr. Panagopoulos in an attempt to shield him. I felt a hand coming through the smashed window that started to pull the door handle. Soon after, I was being violently thrown to the ground and smashed on the back of my head by a Kalashnikov. With a foot on my back, I was ordered to give up my weapon. I can still remember this kidnapper’s breath, full of anxiety and stress! I remember pleading with him to calm down and telling him that I would not resist in case he had his finger on the trigger.
After surrendering my weapon, I was immediately handcuffed and hooded. I was then dragged to the van and thrown inside. Mr. Panagopoulos was already inside the van lying face up towards the van’s roof. Two of the kidnappers came in the back with us and we drove off.
Regaining my composure and breath, I attempted to define and categorize the danger and asked the kidnappers what it was they wanted and not to be violent with Mr. Panagopoulos due to his numerous health issues.
One of the kidnappers answered coldly: ‘’We want 30 million euros! Don’t be a hero and you will live. When we leave you, you will return to the family telling them exactly what we told you.”
They asked me about Mr. Panagopoulos health issues and then whether I had any GPS device on me. They had already smashed both of our mobiles and threw them away at the spot of the kidnapping. I realized only later that it wouldn’t have mattered to them that much since the trip ending up being a 30 minutes’ drive away from the spot they first wanted to go. In any case, they didn’t bother to frisk me but only took my word for it.
Once in the van, I attempted to remove the hood covering my face so I could see where Mr. Panagopoulos was and try to keep him calm. I immediately received a blow from the kidnapper closest to me and I was told to “put on my face hood and shut up!”
Knowing that he was only valuable to them alive, I tried again to explain that Mr. Panagopoulos had serious health issues and that he could die
from the shock at any moment. This seemed to work and they allowed me to console him throughout the remainder of this trip into hell!
My hood was a knitted snow hat or something like that, so when they stretched it down, I wouldn’t be able to see. However, I could see through the stretched holes enough to understand the surroundings and I stretched the hood down to my mouth. I started talking to Mr. Panagopoulos, trying to get him to speak so I that I could assess his situation and whether he was going to come out of this alive. I was building his confidence, giving him hope and telling him how brave he was and that they wouldn’t hurt or kill him. That they just wanted money. But I wasn’t getting any response back due to the shock.
Then suddenly I saw the first signs of response, he lifted his right arm and patted me on the head, without saying anything. He then nodded his head a bit as to answer me that he was ok. As we had a strong relationship and I had gotten to know him pretty well, I knew that to get through this his business brain would have to engage, which would help him survive and mastermind the situation.
After a 30-minute drive, I could tell we’d veered off the main roads and onto a dirt track by the numerous bumps; so many, in fact, that I could barely keep my balance. The van then came to slow stop and as they opened the sliding side door the cold wind rushed in. They escorted Mr. Panagopoulos out of the van away from me. I shouted to them to protect him from the cold wind, again referencing his fragile health.
Mr. Panagopoulos was clenching for dear life and he would not let go of my hand, but they jerked us apart. I tried to tell them I was like a son to him and that he would honor the request for ransom if they let him go and instead allowed me to take his place! I begged and pleaded with them… but to no avail. I was instructed not to turn my head as they put him into the trunk of a third car, that I was unaware of at the time.
Now, separated from the principal and sat slumped and dejected, I suddenly became aware that one of the kidnappers was pointing an AK 47 at me. In that moment, I genuinely believed that this was going to be the last thing I would ever see. Staring down the barrel of the gun, handcuffed, and under a lot of stress, the only thing I could do was to try to talk my way out of this situation. But before I could do anything, I was pulled out of the van by two of the kidnappers who told me they were going to tie me to a tree. Since I couldn’t see any trees in any distance, I thought they would execute me in some nearby hole. I was kicked in the back and fell into a rocky ditch. One of them came behind me and pressed his handgun in the back of my head telling me to shut up and not to turn around! I tried to stay alive even for some seconds more. And at this point, I said to them that if I was to be executed, that I wanted it standing up.
If you want to know what a dead man’s last thoughts are, I can tell you that you will see all your loved ones pass before your eyes. An image of my two young boys appeared in my mind and thought how much they would miss me …
Stay tuned for Part 2, to be continued in issue 57 of the Circuit Magazine.
The Kidnapping of Pericles Panagopoulos PART 1
By: 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.