Academics jailed for fraud

Ten senior academics and managers from Athens's prestigious Panteion University yesterday received unprecedentedly heavy jail sentences for siphoning off 8 million euros in state funds between 1992 and 1998. Of the 10 convicts, five must start serving their sentences immediately since their appeals for a suspension were denied. These five include former Panteion rector Emilios Metaxopoulos, who was sentenced to 25 years in jail, former Panteion vice rector Panayiotis Getimis, who got 16 years, and the university's former accountant Anastassios Koutsodimitropoulos, who got three life sentences and 15 years. Metaxopoulos and Koutsodimitropoulos were found guilty of embezzling some 3 million euros each from university funds. They and the other convicts were also found guilty of fraud, making false statements and dereliction of duty. Another three defendants were exonerated in the climax of a trial which started 17 months ago. The convicts are believed to have spent much of the money they embezzled on luxury goods, such as a Ferrari for Koutsodimitropoulos. The verdicts sent shock waves through the academic community yesterday, with the rectors of other universities saying that the case raised serious questions about the institutional framework and administration of universities. The Education Ministry's general secretary, Andreas Karamanos, former rector of the Agricultural University of Athens, told Kathimerini that the practice of convicting academics calls for «great caution.» But he added, «The developments vindicate the stance of the ministry that more economists are needed in universities' financial management.» Athens University Rector Christos Kittas said he was shocked. «It is the harshest sentence (for such a case) I can remember,» he said. He called for improvements to university management to avert similar cases. The rector of the Athens University of Economics and Business, Georgios Venieris, called for reforms to university management «which is totally outdated» and the recruitment of more professionals with specialized knowledge.