Back to Jail for Ex-Mayor of Thessaloniki for Money-Laundering

Αssociated Press

FILE - Vassilis Papageorgopoulos former mayor of Thessaloniki. (AP Photo/Giannis Papanikos)

THESSALONIKI — A former Mayor of Greece's second-largest city, who had been released from a first sentence for health reasons, has been convicted of money laundering for stealing city funds and sentenced to eight years in prison.

The court verdict  was the second conviction for Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, a former sprinting champion who was Mayor of Thessaloniki from 1999-2010.

Papageorgopoulos previously received a 12-year sentence for embezzlement after more than 17 million euros ($20 million) went missing from municipal coffers. He served two years and five months, but was released in 2015 on poor health grounds.

Papageorgopoulos has denied all the charges. He will remain free until a higher court hears his appeal.

The court also convicted Thessaloniki's former Secretary-General of money laundering and handed him an eight-year suspended prison sentence.

When he was released three years ago, authorities said it because of a heart problem that created a disability for the former runner.

Papageorgopoulos was originally given a life sentence, which was reduced on appeal before he was released. He denied the charges. “I have been treated unfairly,” Papageorgopoulos said after his release. “I was in prison for no reason.” He was a member of New Democracy.

A number of prominent Greek politicians and others have gotten out of jail after saying they were ill.

Former defense minister Akis Tsochatzopoulos, sentenced to 19 years in jail for stealing scores of millions of euros from contracts, was given an early release on July 3 after serving less than five years because he said he had a heart condition.

He walked out of the high-security Korydallos Prison where he was sent to serve his sentence for corruption, pending an appeal. He had been released earlier only to be sent back.

“I am not at my best. I need to take care of myself,” Tsochatzopoulos, 79, told reporters waiting for him outside the prison.

He and his wife, Vicky Stamati, 55, who was released from mail earlier after she said she was depressed and because she was a mother – and had escaped from a psychiatric hospital – had been also convicted of an elaborate money-laundering scheme to hide the millions they stole.

(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)