GREECE: Disgraced former Rector dies

Emilios Metaxopoulos, the former rector of Athens Pandio University, died on 20 November aged 55, just before he was due to travel to Germany to undergo liver transplant surgery. Metaxopoulos faced 25 years in jail for mismanagement of university funds.

A day earlier, a Greek high court had accepted his defence attorney's plea to postpone the hearing of his appeal against the jail sentence for his part in the mismanagement of the university's funds from 1992-99.

The court also lifted the ban on his leaving the country on humanitarian grounds so that he could travel abroad to receive medical treatment.

Metaxopoulos was a brilliant academic with a substantial scientific canon and a meteoric career. He studied political science, philosophy and epistemology at Florence University and the Sorbonne. He was a visiting professor at the University of Piraeus and taught at the University of Florence.

At 35 he was elected vice-rector of Athens Pandio University and five years later, in 1995, he was elected Rector. He was a prolific writer and for a period he was the publisher and editor of the magazine Theory and Society. He contributed articles in collections in the US and France and published three books Convention and Truth, Political Scepticism, and Peregrinations and Perceverances.

Metaxopoulos could be seen as unlucky to be associated with a financial scandal.

An anonymous telephone call to the district attorney triggered an audit of the university's accounts that revealed a EUR8 million (US$10.4 million) deficit.

In the subsequent trial the court was told of funds that should have been spent on research programmes diverted to individuals and invoices that, instead of going to university projects, were actually for expensive renovations of the homes of individuals and the purchase of luxury cars and villas in the most expensive parts of Athens. Altogether 16 people were brought to trial and 11 jailed for various periods.

Metaxopoulos was cleared of misappropriation of funds but convicted for not paying due care and attention to the use to which university funds were put, and what he authorised with his signature.

During his trail, Metaxopoulos insisted that the finances of the university were not part of his responsibilities. Several of his colleagues and independent academics who were called as witnesses supported this view but the judges were not impressed.

It would seem that Metaxopoulos was a victim of the circumstances prevailing during his trial.

At the time another corruption case was in progress involving members of the judiciary accused of receiving bribes in exchange for favourable verdicts. Public opinion was baying for blood and judges were anxious to appear incorruptible and afraid to show leniency.

The court did not even consider releasing Metaxopoulos on bail pending an appeal on the basis that he would escape abroad, and jailed him despite the severity of his illness.

The Parole Board rejected his first application on grounds of ill-health, and refused to release him even when his poor health was confirmed by a number of state hospitals. When Metaxopoulos went on hunger strike, refusing food and water, the court substituted his sentence with three conditions: EUR100,000 bail; a ban on leaving the country; and an obligation to report to his local police station once a month.

On 19 November the court accepted a plea by his defence to postpone the appeal and to lift the ban so that he could travel to Germany for a liver transplant. But he died the following day.