Vassilis Papageorgopoulos, a former sprinter who studied medicine, earning him the nickname “The Flying Doctor,” before becoming Mayor of Thessaloniki from 1999-2010, was found guilty by a court there on Feb. 26 of stealing almost 18 million euros ($23.56 million) from the city’s coffers and given a life sentence in prison.
He had been accused of embezzlement during his two terms in office as a Member of the New Democracy Conservative party that is now ruled by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, who has vowed to crack down on corruption. It is rare in Greece for a high-ranking politician to be prosecuted and he had denied any wrongdoing.
Papageorgopoulos and other four defendants also found guilty were charged in a scheme to skim money. A total of 18 officials stood trial for allegedly embezzling almost 52 million euros ($68 million) from the municipality’s treasury though the court said that there was proof of 17.962 million euros having gone missing. Papageorgopoulos was replaced by a Leftist, Yiannis Boutaris in local elections in November 2010. Boutaris accused Papageorgopoulos of providing inaccurate financial figures when he took over at City Hall.
The court handed lesser guilty verdicts to the municipality’s former general secretary, Michalis Lemousias, ex-cashier Panayiotis Saxonis and two more former directors of the municipality’s financial services. The other parties standing trial, including three former deputy mayors in charge of finances, were acquitted of all charges.
Papageorgopoulos won two medals at the European Indoor Championships as well as the bronze medal in the 100 meters at the 1971 European Championships in Athletics. He first got involved in politics in 1978 when he was elected City councilor of Thessaloniki. He practiced dentistry until 1981, when he was elected as a member of the Greek Parliament.