Public outcry over 10yr jail sentence imposed on municipal janitor who presented forged 6th grade diploma in 1996

Friday, 23 November 2018 11:20
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An appeals court ruling handing down a 10-year prison term - without a suspended sentence option - against a municipal janitor convicted of forging a primary school diploma 20 years ago has generated a firestorm of reactions in Greece.

The 53-year-old woman from the central city of Volos had worked for 18 years - 1996 to 2014 - as a cleaner in a local municipal kindergarten. After the appellate ruling, by a five-justice court in the central city of Larissa, she was led to prison.

The forgery, in the case, was a certificate showing that she completed the sixth grade, when she had reached and completed the fifth grade.

An earlier first instance court ruling had handed down a 15-year sentence on a conviction based on an early 1950s-era law of "felonious embezzlement against the state". The basis for the controversial ruling stems for the fact that the salaries and social security contributions paid for her by the Volos municipality exceeded 120,000 euros - a felony. The appeals court, however, did not acknowledge the fact that the woman had actually fulfilled her employment tasks over the period.  

 The first official reaction came by a supreme court prosecutor on Thursday, who requested the appeals court's written ruling, with a view towards a possible reversal of the sentence at the high court level.

Several political parties and unions also sharply condemned the Draconian punishment meted out for the conviction, reminiscent of a scene straight out of Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables".

The incident was revealed and widely reported around Greece days before a Patras criminal court this week handed down a maximum 15-year-sentence for manslaughter against a Serbian national, one of six defendants convicted in the fatal assault of American tourist Bakari Henderson on the island of Zakynthos in July 2017.

According to subsequent media reports, in a similar case a judicial employee was acquitted by another Greek court of a charge of forging a law degree, accepting the defendant's argument that she filed the forged documentation because she felt "inferior to colleagues who had a law degree".   

A crackdown, begun in 2013, to locate people hired in the Greece's cavernous public sector with forged documents yielded significant results, turning up, among others, "surgeons" without medical degrees and state agencies' "legal counsels" without law degrees. In practically all instances, however, whatever prison terms handed down following convictions were suspended sentences, which could be avoided by paying fines corresponding to each day of jail time.

A "cottage industry" supplying forged diplomas and degrees, fake language and computer literary certificates as well as medical diagnoses, for use to receive disability benefits, is a decades-old problem in the country.

The one-time janitor has been incarcerated in a prison outside the south-central city of Thebes for nearly a month.

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