Fugitive postgraduate is expelled

Erich Kofmel, who skipped bail and fled country, gets the boot from Sussex. Melanie Newman reports

August 8, 2009

A doctoral student who is wanted by police has been expelled from the University of Sussex almost a year after he skipped bail.

Erich Kofmel, a DPhil student, was arrested in May 2008 on suspicion of fraud related to holiday lets, and was bailed until September that year.

He failed to turn up, fled the country and is currently wanted by the British and Swiss police. He is understood to be living in Switzerland.

Announcing the expulsion after a disciplinary hearing, which Mr Kofmel did not attend, a spokeswoman for Sussex said: “The panel judged that reports of Mr Kofmel’s repeated evasion of legal authorities…, his persistent misrepresentation of the nature of the so-called Sussex Centre for the Individual and Society [SCIS] and its misleading claims of connections with the university, were significantly damaging to the interests of Sussex.”

Mr Kofmel founded the SCIS in 2006 as a centre focusing on “risky” research. It was independent of the university but run from campus premises. He continued to use a Sussex campus address for the SCIS while on the run.

Responding to criticism that the university should have acted sooner, the spokeswoman said it was following Universities UK advice that internal disciplinary processes should not be carried out in parallel with police or court proceedings.

However, she said: “The university judged that the prospects of legal action against Mr Kofmel being completed in the foreseeable future had diminished and it was now right to consider the disciplinary case.”

In an email to a representative of the University and College Union, Mr Kofmel said: “I shall wear it as a badge of honour to have been pro forma ‘expelled’ from that cesspool of mediocrity and the society of non-entities such as yourselves.”

Mr Kofmel has continued to write books, organise conferences and run an academic email discussion list and website, www.political-theology.com, while on the run.

A documentary by the BBC’s Panorama programme on his exploits is due to be broadcast in October.

Mr Kofmel, who denies all charges, has suggested that the criminal allegations were made by people opposed to his theories.

“I have a problem defending myself against fraud charges because I do not believe in the ‘sanctity’ of private property, which is, after all, the basis of liberalism and capitalism, which I oppose,” he said.

“A fraud charge is the best way of attacking me ad personam, rather than engaging my arguments.”

In June, he said on his website that he had “come into possession of court documents made out by the proper judicial authorities in Switzerland seeking to interrogate one Eric KOFMEHL – that’s E-r-i-c-K-o-f-m-e-h-l – in connection with fraud accusations.”

Pointing out that his name was spelt differently, he said: “I hope that the authorities not just in Switzerland, but in other jurisdictions, too, will now stop pursuing me and focus their energies on finding Eric Kofmehl. The mix-up of identities must stop here.”

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com

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