Court case pending after auditors discover financial scandal at Panteion University
A major scandal in the handling of Panteion University’s special account has still not resulted in court action. However, earlier revelations, such as the squandering of public funds during the construction of a building in 1992, then the illegal registration of students in 1998-1999, have paled before this current scandal, uncovered in an auditors’ report for 1998, released on the initiative of the rectors elected in 1999 (Sidiropoulos, Farmakidis and Koukoules). The report was compiled after an audit of Panteion Research Committee’s special account, completed early this summer. The results of the audit have not yet led to action by the university administration even though the legislative framework offers such a possibility. In fact, the university still employs a person whose involvement in the scandal was instrumental in causing the university a great deal of damage. Only one person has been dismissed as a result: Haralambos Boutsikos, whom the auditors found issued checks totalling 256,481,794 drachmas (752,698 euros). Boutsikos was unofficially in charge of the special account for research funding. The auditors’ report – the mere production of which was a major feat for its authors as much of the relevant data had disappeared – found a shortfall of 2.5 billion drachmas (7.3 million euros). On November 26, 1998, a fire in the university’s accounts department was found to have been the result of arson, obviously aimed at destroying documents that incriminated staff members involved in a series of illegal actions. During the same period Farmakidis, then a vice rector, was attacked by unidentified assailants as he was leaving the university premises. After the changing of the guard in the last elections, many of those involved hoped the issue would die down. According to sources, former Supreme Court prosecutor Evangelos Kroustallakis had included the case among the six having the highest priority. The investigating magistrate in charge has almost completed her task and charges are expected to be pressed soon. What is interesting about the case is the number of people involved and the likelihood that an entire network had been set up to exploit funds from the European Union. According to the audit of the special account, it is unlikely that the repeated number of illegalities could have been covered up just by two staff members. The report names only two employees: Boutsikas and general secretary Anastasios Koutsodimitropoulos. Boutsikas is charged with, among other things, illegally withholding the sum of over 36 million drachmas (106,000 euros) for a long period of time. One of the charges against Koutsodimitropoulos is the issuing of checks on the part of both the Research Committee accounts and the university accounts department to pay suppliers, chiefly for books, altering consignment orders and invoices from the suppliers Simplesoft. The consignment orders were paid by the Research Committee, the invoices by the university. Simplesoft issued invoices to the university and the Research Committee valued at 211,724,772 drachmas (621,349 euros) and was paid 325,414,773 drachmas (955,956 euros). The additional 113,690,001 drachmas (333,646 euros) came from the double payment of invoices and the falsification of invoices and consignment orders. The total amount paid was far higher than the sum that appeared in the suppliers’ accounts. He is also accused of charging expenditures to research programs without the knowledge of those responsible. One example is contained in a revealing report by the scientific director of the project «Reform of the Undergraduate Syllabus in the Economic and Regional Development Department,» Professor Athanasios Papadaskalopoulos. In a letter to the Research Committee on March 16, 1999, he noted: «In the Committee’s accounting records of February 1, 1999, funding is mentioned that does not belong to the program, and of which we have no knowledge, since the payments were not ordered by our department. These unauthorized payment orders are dated March 18, 1998, numbered 3064 and 3065, check numbers 8012669 and 8012670, made out to Simplesoft for the amounts of 2,411,920 and 295,000 drachmas (7078 and 866 euros).» The former amount had been paid both by the university and the Research Committee; however, the company’s records contain no reference to these orders. Koutsodimitropoulos is also accused of making payments that were not declared in the monthly records sent to the Education Ministry. From jacuzzis to Ferarris Past scandals at Panteion have involved the purchase of jacuzzi pools, but this latest case involves just one luxury car, a red Ferarri given to a friend of one of the people implicated in the scandal. Funds from the Research Committee’s special account to the tune of 27 million drachmas (80,000 euros) were paid for the car in the name of the committee’s secretary. The story of the Ferarri, as recorded in the auditor’s report, is extremely interesting. In January 1998, just four months before the car was bought, the committee sent a document to the bank where the committee’s special account is held. The letter provided the bank with two specimen signatures required for the account. The signatures were those of Vice Rector for Economic Planning and president of the Research Committee Papathanasopoulos and the head of the committee’s secretariat, Koutsodimitropoulos. The audit showed that the document was not clear as to whether both signatures were required and that the bank accepted checks signed only by Koutsodimitropoulos. «If both signatures had been required, it would not have been easy to withdraw the sum of 27 million drachmas, which, according to the records made available to us, was used to buy a Ferarri car in the name of… Koutsodimitropoulos,» said the report. The check made out by the Bank of Athens was issued with the approval of the secretary and countersigned by the bank, made out to the university staff member and administrator of the special account, Boutsikos. «Since the check was not deposited in the Research Committee fund or in its bank accounts, then it was either used to buy the car or appropriated by Mr Boutsikos,» the report concluded. At the same time, the same bank issued a check for 27 million drachmas to DAMKO SA, by order of Koutsodimitropoulos. The company’s invoice concerns the sale of the red Ferrari, whose ownership, according to the car’s circulation license and a letter from the company to Panteion dated July 1999, was «by order of the payee,» half in his own name and half in the name of another person who had no connection to the university. The issue now is not simply what the outcome of the court case will be or whether all those involved will be punished, but whether the auditors’ findings will serve as a model for similar scandals in the management of European Union and state funds that do nothing to further knowledge or scientific research. For if control mechanisms failed over 10 whole years to trace such a major drain of funds at one university, one can only imagine what goes on in the hundreds of other organizations, universities, foundations and services.