Ex-mayor’s life term for graft is shortened

A court in Thessaloniki on Monday reduced a life sentence for embezzlement imposed on the city’s former Mayor Vassilis Papageorgopoulos earlier this year to a 12-year term but the ex-official insisted that he has been wrongly accused and called on Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to intervene on his behalf.

Papageorgopoulos’s sentence was reduced after a five-member appeals court ruled, by a vote of three to two, that he had been an accessory to the theft of some 18 million euros of municipal funds while in office and that he had not played the leading role in the scam.

The court also reduced life terms that had been imposed on Michalis Lemousias, the former general secretary of the Thessaloniki Municipality, and Panagiotis Saxonis, the former treasurer. Lemousias was given a term of 13 years and five months and Saxonis 20 years and six months.

In the case of each of the three defendants, the court took into account their lack of previous convictions. Each of the three were ordered to pay 50,000 euros – money which is to go the city’s coffers.

The court also lightened the sentences meted out to two municipal cashiers implicated in the affair. Thomas Golas and Giorgos Gaidatzis, who received jail terms of 10 and 15 years respectively in February, had their sentences commuted to one- and two-year suspended jail terms, respectively.

After the verdict was issued on Monday, Papageorgopoulos continued to protest that he was not responsible for the embezzlement of the 17.9 million euros from municipal coffers, declaring the court’s verdict “a mistake.” In a written statement, the 67-year-old claimed that he was a “scapegoat” and appealed to the Supreme Court as well as Justice Minister Haralambos Athanassiou and Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to intervene. “In prison after a long period of contribution to my country, to Thessaloniki, to youth, with absolute respect for the Constitution and for laws and without the acquisition of any significant asset in the past 25 years,” Papageorgopoulos said in the statement. “An innocent in jail!” he added, claiming to be the victim of a frame-up.

The ex-mayor’s lawyers said their client would appeal again, to the Supreme Court.