GREECE: Former chancellor on hunger strike

Jailed for 25 years, former chancellor of Athens' Pandio University, Emilios Metaxopoulos, has gone on a hunger strike. This follows rejection of his application for release from prison on serious medical grounds for the second time by the Appeals Parole Board. Metaxopoulos is serving the sentence for mismanaging university property in a celebrated €4 million misappropriation of funds case involving several academics and university staff members.

Metaxopoulos is suffering from cirrhosis of the liver in an advanced stage and is receiving treatment in hospital guarded by prison officers. None of the judges in the five-member board disputed the health problem he is facing but only two were of the opinion that "the seriousness of his condition made it imperative that he should immediately be released from prison".

At the time of his trial, Metaxopoulos was not found guilty of misappropriation of funds. The court heard that he just did not pay due care and attention to how university funds were being spent when he authorised them. He was found guilty of mismanagement.

The court heard of the building and refurbishing of luxury villas, the acquisition of expensive cars such as a Ferrari, holidays on exotic locations and so on – paid from university funds. Altogether 11 people were sentenced to prison with Metaxopoulos.

The trial lasted more than 18 months and several of Metaxopoulos' colleagues spoke out in his defence. After rejection of his application by the Appeals Parole Board, they appealed for his release on humanitarian grounds.

Medical advisors claimed that unless he received an immediate liver transplant and appropriate treatment in a specialist hospital, his life would be in serious danger. His brother, a lawyer and a member of his defence team, stated after the verdict:

"I cannot understand the reasoning behind the decision to continue to detain him since evidently the jail hospitals are unable to provide the continuous and specialised treatment my brother needs."

The public prosecutor said his legal advisors should apply for a suspension of the rest of the prison sentence and an immediate release from prison on the basis that he is suffering from an incurable disease. But they pointed out that apparently this was not possible until such time as the case was retried at the Court of Appeals.

Legal experts claim the judges have practically exhausted their severity by sending him to jail pending an appeal at which his sentence is likely to be quashed, and by refusing to release him when evidently his health is very poor and he is not suspected of fleeing from justice.

The judges' action, however, is understandable in the light of another celebrated case currently before the courts in which several judges, lawyers, prosecutors and other legal eagles are accused of receiving bribes to return favourable verdicts. Now a majority of judges are afraid to show leniency and are anxious to appear incorruptible. The climate is for long and severe sentences and Metaxopoulos is perhaps an undeserving victim.

The Appeals Parole Board also rejected the application for release on medical grounds of Blassis Vekontis, who was sentenced to 15 years in jail for his part in the mismanagement of Pandio University funds.

The board did not dispute the state of the applicant's health, which was supported by a wealth of medical certificates from public hospitals, but judged that his sentence should not be suspended until such time as his case was heard by the Court of Appeals.

The board also refused to take into consideration as a precedent one of their previous decisions when they released for health reasons Panagiotis Getimis, former vice-chancellor of Pandio University, who had been sentenced to 16 years in prison for his involvement in the mismanagement case.