NEWS

Talks on land register

Greece’s controversy-mired effort to compile a national land register will figure prominently in talks today and tomorrow between Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou and European Union officials, who are seeking some 20 billion drachmas worth of union funds they say were misspent on the project. Yesterday, Papandreou confirmed that the substantial part of the EU funding that Regional Policy Commissioner Michel Barnier has warned Brussels wanted back amounted to 57 million euros – some 19.5 billion drachmas. She will meet Barnier on the sidelines of the EU Environment Ministers’ (Papandreou’s full title is Environment, Planning and Public Works Minister) meeting in Brussels today and tomorrow. The initial budget, of which the EU is providing 75 percent, for a pilot scheme involving a fraction of the register has more than doubled since it was first approved in 1994, while only a quarter of the envisaged work has been completed. The final decision will be taken by EU commissioners on December 20. If it confirms Barnier’s estimate, Greece must expect to have the first 11.2 billion drachmas immediately withheld from ongoing Community Support Framework programs. But Papandreou told a press conference yesterday that Greece has reason to hope for clemency. We do not believe that the arguments employed by (the EU) are sound, she said. There are objections… and the (EU) proposal is probably not sufficiently documented, from a legal point of view… We believe the final decision will be more favorable. The land register, billed by Papandreou’s predecessor, Costas Laliotis – who held the post from 1993 to the end of October – as the flagship of Greece’s public works program, became the object of an intense domestic political dispute after prosecutor Giorgos Gerakis filed corruption and fraud charges on September 28 against the entire board of the company handling the project (Ktimatologio SA) and top officials in two of the contracting companies. Laliotis accused the prosecutor of working in cahoots with opposition New Democracy. One of Papandreou’s first acts on assuming her new duties was to sack the entire Ktimatologio board.