Deal struck on return of land register funds

Greek and European Union officials agreed in Brussels yesterday on the terms of refunding a substantial part of EU funds for Greece’s troubled land register program. Environment, Planning and Public Works Minister Vasso Papandreou and the European commissioner for regional policy, Michel Barnier, agreed that Greece should refund 57 million euros (19.4 million drachmas) to the EU, half the total aid provided, of which 10.9 billion will be returned immediately. Barnier will submit the agreement to the commission on December 20. Rejection is highly unlikely. The sums will not be paid by Greece but actually withheld from the Community Support Framework (CSF) reserves, the 10.9 billion drachmas immediately and the rest in 2004. This will not affect any program currently being carried out with CSF funds, since the money was provided as part of the second CSF (1994-1999). The second installment may not be withheld if a committee of EU experts finds out that the project is no longer mismanaged. The land register project will continue to be funded by the Greek government. A part of the project that was to be submitted to the EU for approval and funding will be redrafted and submitted next year. Mrs. Papandreou said she was willing to re-examine in depth the rules by which the project operates, a statement from Barnier’s office said. This agreement marks a new beginning, a new program that will have little in common with the (land register) project as is known today, said Papandreou. The land register, billed by Papandreou’s predecessor, Costas Laliotis – who held the post from 1993 until the end of October – as one of the crowning achievements of Greece’s public works program, became mired in political controversy 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, but a judicial investigation cleared Gerakis of any wrongdoing. One of Papandreou’s first acts on assuming her new duties was to sack the entire Ktimatologio board.

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