Christos Sartzetakis

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Christos Sartzetakis

Christos Antoniou Sartzetakis (born 6 April, 1929 - Thessaloniki) was a Greek jurist and an elder statesman.

He received his law degree at the university of Thessaloniki in 1954. He then started a successful career, first as a lawyer at the Thessaloniki Bar. In November 1955, he was nominated as Justice of the Peace. One year later he became a judge in the Court of First Instance.

He was the dogged prosecutor in the sensational case of the assassination on the left-wing United Democratic Left member of parliament (and ‘doctor of the poor’) Gregoris Lambrakis, committed on May 22, 1963 in Thessaloniki, supposedly ordered by the right-wing government or its paramilitary affiliates. Lambrakis had called for Greece to disarm and withdraw from NATO. Over half a million people attended his funeral.

In spite of sabotage by his superiors, he nevertheless succeeded in elucidating this shady affair for a greater part. He succeeded in indicting the police officers involved in the murder. These were later acquitted in their trial.

The circumstances of the Lambrakis investigation were described in the well-known 1966 novel Z, by Vassilis Vassilikos. The novel was adapted for the screenplay of the Academy Award winning 1969 film Z, directed by Costa-Gavras, starring Jean-Louis Trintignant in the role of the brave prosecutor and Yves Montand as the unnamed senator. The score for the movie was composed by the famed Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis.

After the Lambrakis prosecution was concluded, Sartzetakis left on an educational leave, with a state allowance, for Paris to study comparative law at the Faculté de Droit et des Sciences Économiques de Paris and Centre Universitaire des Études des Communautés Européennes.

Immediately following the putsch of 21 April 1967 by George Papadopoulos, he was called back to Athens by the military junta. Together with 29 other magistrates, he was discharged by a "Constitutional Act" from all his legal functions on 29 May 1968.

He was twice arrested, and was imprisoned for almost a year. He was savagely tortured by the military police.

On 19 November 1971, he was released, under mounting international pressure (mainly French). The junta had never dared to prosecute him before a court.

In September 1974, after the toppling of the dictatorship and the restoration of the democracy in Greece, he was completely rehabilitated.

During the following years he became chairman of the Court of Appeal and finally, in October 1982, Supreme Court Justice. He became a fellow in several international legal societies. He also wrote several legal and political studies. He was bestowed with the highest honors in many countries.

On 29 March 1985, on proposal of the PASOK, he was elected by the parliament as President of the Hellenic Republic for one 5-year term, succeeding Ioannis Alevras, although he was not affiliated with any political party. He fulfilled this function up to 4 May 1990. As President he was often criticized for his intolerance of press criticism and his regal life-style.

He was honored several times as doctor honoris causa and was given the highest decorations of many states. He was widely known and respected for his integrity as a judge and as a fighter for democracy.

Sartzetakis died on February 3, 2022, after a long illness.

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Preceded by:
Ioannis Alevras
President of Greece
1985 - 1990
Succeeded by:
Constantine Karamanlis