NEWS

A large Glyfada holding, classified as forestland, is divided up into building plots for huge profits

Attica has few remaining oases of greenery, yet instead of putting a decisive stop to the expansion of the huge urban sprawl onto precious public land, (mountain slopes and streams), the State allows all kinds of land-grabbers to gouge out mountains, incinerate forests, slice up outer suburban areas and reap large profits from construction outside the town plan. It allows them to «develop» the land by devastating, subdividing and selling it, in the certainty that one day their work will be legalized. There is no other explanation for the lack of administrative action, till now, to counter the scandalous encroachment on a huge public area in Glyfada which has been subdivided and sold off as if it had been privately owned for the past eight decades. Authorities were perfectly aware of this encroachment. Just two-and-a-half years ago, a mixed advisory council handed down a 55-page ruling, which has yet to be accepted by the Agriculture, Economy and Environment ministries, and a long public prosecutor’s report was sent to the Economy, Environment, Agriculture and Justice ministries and to the State Legal Council two years ago. But a long period of inaction on the part of authorities jeopardized the fate of the last remaining public spaces outside the city plan, which they should instead be fencing off and protecting. The matter came under the public eye following the sale of a 62.08-hectare piece of land at Aixoni, Glyfada in 1997, which turned out to be problematic when it met obstacles at the land registry. In the hope of solving the problem, the buyers took legal action. A thorough investigation uncovered both the misdeeds of the buyers and the long history of land encroachment, not only on that particular site, but throughout the area. The story is worth telling, because it is certainly not the first of its kind, nor will it be the last in any area where building development is at a premium. In February 1997, 89-year-old pensioner A.B. sold a large piece of land in Aixoni on the beautiful, wooded, western slopes of Mt. Hymettus, which he had supposedly inherited from Elpida Kyriazopoulou-Vaou, to two middle-aged Cypriots who were permanent residents of London. The land, 62.08 hectares in size, was sold at the disgracefully low price of 110 million drachmas, considering that the local tax office had valued the property at 21.7 billion drachmas. Complaints led to the intervention of first instance court prosecutor Georgios Koliokostas, who ordered a preliminary investigation. Public Prosecutor Georgios Gerakas conducted the investigation, and Koliokostas charged the notary public, the vendor and the two buyers with the felonies of forgery against the State and false declaration (but to this day the case has still not proceeded beyond the inquiry stage). In March 1998, the two purchasers lodged an application to the Palaio Faliron registry to register the contract. But, as a year had gone by since it had been signed, the registrar asked the Glyfada tax office for a re-evaluation of the property so as to calculate the cost of registration. The Glyfada tax office, informed by Koliokostas of the forged documents and legal charges, had received an order from him to delay the evaluation. Time passed, but the two buyers insisted on getting the contract registered. In June 2001, they asked the new chief prosecutor of the first instance courts, Ioannis Sakellakos, to countermand Koliokostas’s order to postpone the re-evaluation. Sakellakos conducted an investigation (which went beyond this particular contract) and discovered that the vendor, by then 89 (and since deceased) never inherited the land he sold from Kyriazopoulou-Vaou, because she had eventually revoked that will by another in her own hand. Sakellakos confirmed that the sales contract was drawn up on the basis of two forged documents, a forged tax authority document certifying that the vendor had paid the inheritance tax, and a forged document purporting to be from the Pendeli forestry authority. The contract in question deliberately omitted to state whether the land being sold was scrubland or farming land. But in 1999, the chief forester of Pendeli officially described the 62.08-hectare expanse of land as «a part of the western slopes of Mount Hymettus, the slopes of which range from gentle to steep and very steep, and is forest and scrubland.» It had been classified for reforestation in 1934 and 1972, and had recently (1992-2) been artificially reforested. More importantly, he showed that the land being sold was part of a 360-hectare public expanse that had been encroached upon. In other words, the land did not belong either to Kyriazopoulou-Vaou or to those who transferred it to her, because it was never privately owned land. Sakellakos provides plenty of evidence for his opinion in his 35-page document. But his rebuff did not deter the two buyers – who applied to a court insisting that the contract be registered – or the court – which ruled in favor of the buyers and forced the Glyfada land registry to register the contract. An appeal is due to be heard on May 15. On Monday, senior Athens prosecutor Sotiris Bayias will order an official inquiry into the matter.