NEWS

Watermelons, a new approach to land-grabbing

From time to time, cases come to light of land-grabbing in national forests, illegally built seaside villas or hotels built on the beach, but someone encroaching on a beach with a watermelon patch is a new approach. On the beach at Schinos, right next to the beautiful seaside village of Zacharo in the prefecture of Ileia in the western Peloponnese, the residents of the village of Biskinokambos are up in arms over an alleged attempt by an architect to claim 4.5 hectares of beach by planting watermelons. The architect-farmer claims rightful ownership of the land, but the prefectural property service has a different opinion, which it expressed three years ago in a suit submitted to the Ileia public prosecutors’ office accusing the architect, Nikolaos Alexandropoulos, of expropriating public property. Nevertheless, both the property service’s suit and another by local residents have not yet been heard. «This is a case of blatant encroachment on public land,» the head of the Ileia property service, Nikos Papavassileiou, told Kathimerini. «Mr Alexandropoulos is claiming ownership of 12.2 hectares of land, interpreting as he pleases the Finance Ministry’s deed of transfer from the previous owners, which refers to 1.2 hectares. Acting for Alexandropoulos, lawyer Costas Tzavaras claims that the boundaries referred to in the deed of transfer of 1932 and 1933 do not correspond to 1.2 hectares but to much more. Luxury hotel It takes more than the addition of a single digit to turn 1.2 into 12.2. The case is interesting if one takes into consideration the local gossip that, in future, the watermelon field could give way to a luxury hotel, in line with the prevailing concept of tourism development in Greece. Meanwhile, the allegations by the property service and the mayor of Biskinokambos reveal that the services involved have displayed considerable tolerance of the owner’s illegal actions. Exploiting the delays caused by bureaucracy and omissions by the relevant services in setting the coastal boundary and in implementing the deeds of transfer on the Schinos beach, Alexandropoulos has laid claim to 12.2 hectares, despite the fact that the sales contract of 1993 shows he bought 1.2 hectares for 3.5 million drachmas. «The relevant authorities have shown a suspicious silence. The beachfront in question is public land and the boundaries of the 1.2 hectares owned by Alexandropoulos are in accordance with a Finance Ministry decision of December 2003,» explained Haralambos Santarmis, president of the Biskinokambos Municipal Council. «We separate from the old coastal line the 1.2 hectares referred to in the Finance Ministry’s deeds of transfer, numbered 25159/ 1932 and 25221/1933, that were issued in the name of Dimitris Theodoropoulos, the previous owner before Nikolaos Alexandropoulos.» (Government Gazette 1389 19/12/2003). Alexandropoulos’s main argument is that the land he bought on the basis of the boundaries recorded in the deeds of transfer from the 1930s is for a much larger piece of land. The question therefore is whether one measures a piece of land on the basis of its surface area or its boundaries. «In such cases, one takes into consideration the surface area mentioned in the deed of transfer and not the boundaries, which could determine a surface area larger than what has been transferred,» according to the Finance Ministry’s Public Property Department in a reply to a query from the property service on March 31, 1994, a few months after the architect made his claims. The little community of Zacharo believes the state services involved are perhaps covering up for Alexandropoulos. «Everyone is working for Alexandropoulos,» said local residents who have issued a protest resolution. Finance Ministry They might be right, considering the stance of the Finance Ministry services in 2001, when the State’s dispute with Alexandropoulos was at its height. On October 31, 2001, the ministry’s Public Property Department sent a memo to the Ileia property service asking them «not to take any action before the above procedures (determining the beachfront boundary) have been completed and the ownership status of the said property has been determined.» Although the case seems clear-cut and although local residents have been holding almost daily protest meetings, local government officials have been silent, justice has not yet been served, and the property service cannot yet execute the administrative protocol issued with regard to the encroachment on state land.