Verelis dismisses Olympic suit

Following the Greek government’s stubborn refusal to claim back illegal subsidies it had granted to Olympic Airways, the permanently ailing state carrier, the European Commission said yesterday it was referring the matter to the European Court of Justice. In December, the Commission asked Athens to recover a total of 194 million euros in illegal state aid given to Olympic from 1998 onward. «Greece had two months from the notification of the Commission’s decision to comply with it,» the Commission said in a statement yesterday. «By the deadline of 13 February 2003, the aid in question had not been recovered. The Commission has therefore decided to bring the matter before the Court of Justice.» But Transport Minister Christos Verelis claimed that the problem, which he described as «purely legal in nature,» would cease to exist when the government carries out its planned juggling trick with Olympic’s liabilities. As part of its repeated, and so far unsuccessful, efforts to sell off the airline, the government has said it will split Olympic into a new, healthy branch – which will be privatized – while dumping all the accrued debts on a company that will remain in state ownership. «We believe we will forestall the court developments by the foundation of the new Olympic Airways,» Verelis said yesterday. «This process had been heralded in advance and was to be expected,» he said of yesterday’s decision. «The Greek side has strong legal arguments and, as I have already declared, the matter is now purely legal in nature.» Verelis had responded to the December decision by claiming the Commission only wanted 41 million euros repaid, and described the 194 million as a figure cooked up by the international media.