Sussex PhD student skips bail and heads abroad to continue work

SCIS founder faces fraud allegations in the UK and is wanted in Germany. Melanie Newman reports

March 5, 2009

A University of Sussex PhD student is continuing to edit books, organise conferences and run an email discussion list despite failing to answer police bail.

Erich Kofmel founded the Sussex Centre for the Individual and Society (SCIS) in 2006 as a focus for "risky" research.

It was based on the Sussex campus but "entirely independent" of the university.

Times Higher Education reported in August 2008 that a number of renowned international academics listed on the SCIS website had demanded that their names be removed, amid uncertainty over its status.

Mr Kofmel was arrested in May 2008 on suspicion of fraud related to holiday lets and bailed to appear before police in September, but he failed to turn up.

The Argus newspaper reported last year that he had been tracked to his native Switzerland and was also wanted by German police.

A spokesman for Sussex Police said: "We are not actively pursuing this case at this time as it is not believed the man is in this country. However, we are staying in close contact with colleagues in Switzerland and Germany who are also keen to speak to him."

In December 2008, Mr Kofmel edited a book, Anti-Democratic Thought, while another volume, Anti-Liberalism and Political Theology, is due for publication this August.

As well as publishing books, Mr Kofmel runs an email discussion list, political-theology.org, which he said had 70 subscribers.

In July 2008, he persuaded Lord Plant of Highfield, professor of jurisprudence at King's College London, to give a keynote address at a conference under the SCIS brand at Sciences Po in Paris.

Mr Kofmel describes himself on his website, www.erichkofmel.com, as a "European doctorate candidate in social and political thought at the University of Sussex and Sciences Po, Paris".

Last October, Sciences Po said that it had permanently expelled Mr Kofmel, but Sussex consistently declined to comment on his status. Mr Kofmel is understood to still be using his Sussex email address.

A contributor to Anti-Democratic Thought, Tuula Vaarakallio, a researcher at the University of Jyvaskyla in Finland, said she was unaware of Mr Kofmel's circumstances prior to the publication. "If I only knew about these issues, I would have withdrawn my contribution to the volume," she said.

Anthony Freeman, managing editor of Imprint Academic, defended his decision to publish both books.

He said: "(We) agreed to publish two books edited by Erich Kofmel before I was aware of the allegations of fraud being made against him and ... press reports that he was wanted by the police."

He added: "I have no wish for the reputation of Imprint Academic to be damaged by its association with Mr Kofmel, but neither do I intend to put myself in the wrong by breaking a legal publishing agreement on the basis of unproven allegations.

"No money has changed hands yet. The full cost of production is being borne by the publisher, and any editorial royalties due to Erich Kofmel in respect of sales of the books are due to be paid annually in arrears."

Meanwhile, Companies House said it was investigating the SCIS and it removed another of Mr Kofmel's companies from the UK companies register.

A message on Mr Kofmel's website posted on 16 February said he was changing SCIS' "legal personality to that of an international association under Swiss law".

However, the SCIS website still bears a Sussex campus postal address. Last August, Times Higher Education reported that the university had complained that Mr Kofmel's claim that the SCIS was based at 39 Tenant Lain on its campus was "untrue and misleading".

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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