Ex-Thessaloniki mayor appeals life sentence over embezzlement, denies charges

The former mayor of Thessaloniki, Vasilis Papageorgopoulos, on Tuesday denied charges that he is responsible for the embezzlement of 17.9 million euros from the municipality’s coffers on Day 41 of his appeal trial, which will determine whether he will face life in prison – the strictest sentence ever passed down by a first-instance court to a public official accused of financial crimes.

“I have been in prison for one year, three months and eight days and I still can’t wrap my mind around it,” the former municipal official, aged 66, told the court in his opening remarks. “I can’t explain even to myself why I’m in prison. But the heaviest burden – even more so than my incarceration – is the sullying of my good name, which I have built over 50 years with toil and trouble, and which was shattered by an unjust judicial decision.”

Papageorgopoulos went on to accuse former municipal treasurer Panagiotis Saxonis of having systematically embezzled money from the city from before the mayor was elected to office in 1999. Papageorgopoulos held the post until December 2010.

Saxonis and the former general secretary of the municipality, Michalis Lemousias, were also sentenced to life in prison after it was found they had been involved in the scam.

Lemousias is also appealing his conviction while Saxonis admitted to his involvement in illicit cash transactions but claimed to have been taking orders from his superiors.