ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Sifis Valyrakis, a former minister and resistance fighter against Greece’s 1967-74 military dictatorship who twice made daring escapes, was found dead at sea Sunday night. He was 77.
Valyrakis had sailed with his inflatable craft at noon (1000 GMT) off the coast of the island of Evia in central Greece, where his family has a vacation home. His wife alerted authorities to his absence. His craft was found in the afternoon without him and his body was found just after 8:30 p.m. local (1830 GMT), the coast guard said.
Conditions at sea were “good,” a coast guard spokeswoman told The Associated Press, adding that no cause of death can be given yet.
Valyrakis was minister of public order, in charge of the security and intelligence services, from March 1995 to January 1996. Earlier, in the 1980s and 1990s, he was deputy public order minister, sports minister and deputy transport and communications minister in the Socialist governments of Andreas Papandreou, from 1981-89 and 1993-96.
A noted Papandreou loyalist, he was replaced as minister when the long-time socialist leader stood down for health reasons in 1996 and never held another portfolio, although he remained a member of parliament for his Chania constituency, on the island of Crete, where he had first been elected in 1977, until 2004, as well as from 2009 to 2012.
Valyrakis was himself the son of a former army officer and later member of parliament with the Center Union party, in the 1960s. Born in Chania in 1943, he studied electronics and industrial automation in Germany and Sweden.
During the dictatorship, he joined Papandreou’s Panhellenic Liberation Movement and was trained at a PLO camp in Lebanon. He was responsible for several bombing attacks against the dictatorship, although these caused no casualties.
Arrested in 1971 and tortured by military police, he escaped by cutting the bars in his cell and causing a short-circuit in the jail’s electrical grid. He hopped on the roof of a train headed to Germany, but was found at the border and jailed on the island of Corfu.
Valyrakis escaped the same year from the Corfu jail, and swam several kilometers to Albania, only to be arrested as a spy and sentenced to three years of hard labor. At that time, communist Albania still had relations with China, and Papandreou obtained his release through the intermediary of his friend, Cambodia’s then-Sovereign Prince Norodom Sihanouk, who alerted the Chinese to Valyrakis’ plight.
Because of his training in guerrilla tactics at a PLO camp, some U.S. officials suspected him of being among the founders of extremist organization November 17, which operated from 1975-2002 and counted U.S. military personnel and CIA station chief Richard Welch among its victims. He always strongly denied the allegations. In January 2009, Valyrakis was arrested and held for several hours at New York City’s JFK airport because his visa had been revoked while he was en route.
Valyrakis is survived by his wife Mina, a well-known painter, and two children. No information about other survivors was immediately available.