Christos Sartzetakis, a former president of Greece, died on Thursday at an Athens hospital where he had been treated for pneumonia. He was 93.
He was a Greek jurist and former supreme justice of the Court of Cassation, who also served as the President of Greece from 1985 to 1990.
Sartzetakis was born in Neapoli, Thessaloniki in 1929.
Sartzetakis was prosecutor in the case of Grigoris Lambrakis
He was the unyielding prosecutor in the sensational case of the assassination of the left-wing member of Parliament Grigoris Lambrakis, committed on May 22, 1963 in Thessaloniki by right-wing extremists. Lambrakis had called for Greece to disarm and withdraw from NATO. Over half a million people attended his funeral.
Despite obstruction of justice by his superiors, Sartzetakis doggedly pursued his investigation to the end. He succeeded in convicting the police officers involved in the murder; they were later rehabilitated by the Greek military junta of 1967-1974.
His zeal to uncover the facts behind the Lambrakis assassination was not based on his political views, but on his professionalism and sense of duty.
The Lambrakis investigation was the theme of the well-known 1966 novel “Z” by Vassilis Vassilikos, and Sartzetakis was portrayed by Jean-Louis Trintignant in the novel’s 1969 film adaptation by Costas Gavras.
The Greek military junta that ruled Greece between 1967-1974 discharged him by a “Constitutional Act” from all his legal functions. He was twice arrested, and imprisoned for almost a year until he was released on November 19, 1971 under mounting international pressure.
From imprisonment to the presidency of Greece
In September 1974, after the toppling of the dictatorship and the restoration of democracy in Greece, Sartzetakis was completely politically rehabilitated.
In the following years, he became chairman of the Court of Appeals and finally, in October 1982, a member of the Court of Cassation. Sartzetakis became a fellow of several international legal societies. He also wrote several legal and political studies.
In March of 1985 the PASOK government headed by Andreas Papandreou proposed his nomination for President of the Hellenic Republic.
He was elected by the parliament to a 5-year term as the fourth President of the Hellenic Republic. Holding no official political affiliation, Sartzetakis was President from March 30, 1985 to May 5, 1990.
Tributes paid to Christos Sartzetakis
President Katerina Sakellaropoulou spoke of a “principled servant of Justice who, in difficult times for the country and its democracy, handled as an investigator the case of the murder of Lambrakis with exemplary independence and judicial ethos, [and] paying…a heavy price in the years of the junta.”
Later, as President of the country, “he honored the office with conscientiousness, dedication and a high sense of responsibility in the exercise of his duties,” she added, extending her condolences to his family.
In his own message, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Sartzetakis became known for “the denunciation of unconstitutional mechanisms in the Lambraki case. Those who, unfortunately, came to the fore with the seven-year dictatorship, leading to his own persecution.”
Mitsotakis recognized that his party, New Democracy, did not support him in his successful bid for the Presidency in 1985, but “cooperated with him, respecting his constitutional role.”
Movement for Change (KINAL) leader Nikos Androulakis expressed his condolences to the late president’s family, noting that “he was a patriot who consistently served the public interest, Justice and Democracy.”
Androulakis recalled Sartzetakis’ investigation of the Lambrakis murder, adding that his stint as president, after a proposal by socialist PASOK, “contributed to the democratization of institutions with the 1986 Constitutional Review.”
Former socialist premier Costas Simitis said Sartzetakis supported democracy “bravely and stubbornly,” in adverse conditions and expressed his condolences to his family.
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