The two Albanians that shot and killed 52-year-old criminal lawyer Michalis Zafiropoulos 19 days ago had been hired to intimidate him into cooperating with a blackmail plan targeting one of the lawyer’s clients, police revealed on Wednesday. The two men were both wanted criminals, while the 32-year-old that actually pulled the trigger was an escaped convict who had failed to return to prison after furlough in September.
Presenting the findings of the police investigation, Police Major General Christos Papazafiris of the Attica Security police and Hellenic Police spokesman Theodoros Chronopoulos revealed that the pair, aged 32 and 30 years old, had received an advance of 3000 euros to coerce Zafiropoulos into cooperating, while their final fee had been set at 20,000 euros. They had been “rented” by three Albanians currently serving time in prison and their task was to persuade the lawyer to assist in an attempt to extort five million euros from a prisoner held in connection with the Energa case, whom Zafiropoulos was representing. The two men ended up shooting the lawyer instead, in what police believe was a largely accidental killing.
The revelations were made in the presence of Police Commissioner Constantinos Tsouvalas, who came down to the Attica police headquarters to express his satisfaction with the successful cracking of the case.
The 32-year-old arrested by Attica Police as the chief suspect for the shooting confessed to the murder on Tuesday, while his testimony shed further light on the reasons for the killing and how it came about.
Papazafiris said that authorities were charging three Albanian prison inmates aged 34, 35 and 40 years old, respectively, who are serving time for attempted homicides and other serious crimes, with morally instigating the murder and hiring the men that killed Zafiropoulos in an attempt to coerce him.
The three were asking for five million euros from the defendant in the Energa case in order to withdraw their testimony, in which they accuse him of morally instigating the 2014 murder attempt against a lawyer called Antonopoulos in Penteli, who was his adversary in the case. Police said they have recordings of a telephone call made by one of the three, in which he clearly states that the two men had instructions to intimidate the lawyer but had killed him instead.
Additional evidence that clinched the case came from the ballistics investigation of the bullet and the culprit’s fingerprints: the first showed that the same gun had been used in a shooting in Kallithea last September, in which two Albanians were injured, while fingerprints found in Kallithea were also found in Zafiropoulos’ office. That Kallithea shooting had been unsolved but is now shown to involve the same man.
The case also involves an unknown woman, who gave the two ‘rented’ criminals the 3,000-euro advance and a “burner” phone used to make an appointment with Zafiropoulos, which has not been found.
Based on the findings of their investigation, police say the two men turned up for the appointment at 17:45 on October 12 and pretended that they wanted to discuss a case. They talked with Zafiropoulos and his assistant for some time and, after making sure that nobody else was present, they pulled out a gun and threatened the two men, holding them in different offices.
The suspects asked for the address of the client in the Energa case, in order to threaten his family and force him to hand over the money they wanted. Zafiropoulos gave them a court document listing the address. This document was later found in a search of a Kallithea apartment where the suspected killers lived, together with a third Albanian man aged 32.
Once they had the document, the 30-year-old suggested that they shoot Zafiropoulos in the legs and depart but the 32-year-old shot him in the chest at 1.5 metres instead, resulting in the lawyer’s death.
The evidence found in the Kallithea apartment includes a gun and clip with 10 bullets, a military rifle with a clip and 300 bullets, a hand grenade, assorted ammunition, two complete police uniforms, explosives, detonators etc.
Police also arrested a 32-year-old that shared the apartment with the two Albanians but have no evidence that links him to the murder case.
Both Albanians involved in the shooting left Athens immediately after the crime. The 30-year-old escaped to Albania while the 32-year-old visited various Roma camps in the Peloponnese before he was arrested in Achaia on Saturday, while seeking a way to escape to Italy or Albania. The three accused of organising the blackmail attempt from prison deny their involvement, though police say they have sufficient evidence and witness reports to make the charges stick.
All five suspects in the case are hardened criminals who have been accused of a variety of serious offences, from rape and robbery to attempted murder – including the shooting of the lawyer Antonopoulos in 2014, which they claimed was a contract killing.