Court Christmas gift to Patras

Possibly warmed by the Christmas spirit, an Athens court has allowed a man who was jailed for owing the state money to leave prison immediately and serve out the rest of his sentence by taking part in community service, in a rare decision made public yesterday. The 44-year-old unnamed businessman from the western Peloponnesian city of Patras had served three months of a 21-month jail sentence for debts to the state, the sum of which was not made public. When he was sentenced, the man, who had gone bankrupt, had the option of buying out his prison sentence but could not afford that either. He appealed the ruling under a law, unveiled in February last year, which allows judges to convert prison sentences that are under three years in length into terms of community service, although such decisions have been scarce. However, the three-judge panel decided unanimously that the businessman should see out the rest of his sentence by spending four hours a day working for the Municipality of Patras.