Kastellorizo residents protest against ‘illegal’ land encroachments

Over the last few months, the small community of Kastellorizo, Greece’s easternmost island, has been seething as accusations of illegal encroachments on land owned by fellow islanders from Australia gather steam. As a result, legal actions have been flying thick and fast and the island has split into two camps. The Court of First Instance prosecutor on the chief island in the Dodecanese archipelago, Rhodes, has stepped into the fray and launched legal proceedings against the mayor for financial irregularities. Numerous other cases are coming before the courts. Kathimerini went to the remote island and spoke with local leaders and residents. Accusations were bandied about, ranging from the production of documents on the basis of municipal rolls to the issuing of permits for the island’s stores. The most serious concerned land encroachments. Allegedly, a group of islanders looks out for plots of land that have not been claimed or used recently by their owners (who in most cases are fellow islanders who have migrated to Australia). It then reputedly produces witnesses who falsely testify to third parties’ occupancy of the land for 20 years (as provided for by the law on adverse possession and corresponding forfeiture of ownership). When they have secured the property, residents allege, their new owners then sell it on, usually to citizens of other European countries. «Many of these accusations are already subject to legal proceedings,» Giorgos Papoutsis, opposition leader and municipal councilor on Megisti, Kastellorizo’s other name, told Kathimerini. «It’s not possible that those who remained on Kastellorizo have 10 landholdings each. Some of them have even encroached on public property.» The expatriate Society for the Revival of Megisti, which is based in Sydney, Australia, in September sent a letter to Aegean and Island Policy Minister Aristotelis Pavlidis laying out the problem in detail and asking him to intervene. At the same time, the opposition bloc on the municipal council is pressing ahead with charges of misuse of public money by the municipality. «We have indications and evidence, during the period 1995-2002 and Mayor Pavlos Panigyris’s tenure, of financial irregularities in the municipality. The mayor himself charged invoices for building materials to the municipality and then used them to build his hotel,» Papoutsis alleged. «Moreover, there are people on the payroll, relatives of Mr Panigyris, who were paid by the municipality for work they never undertook, as well as other strange irregularities.» Based on the allegations by Papoutsis and other residents of Kastellorizo, the former Supreme Court prosecutor Evangelos Kroustalakis ordered, in spring 2003, that Rhodes prosecutors undertake a preliminary investigation. The case was frozen until this summer, when the investigation started up again. The brief is now at the interrogation stage and is expected to come before the court soon. Kathimerini spoke to Kastellorizo Mayor Pavlos Panigyris and asked for his side of the story as most of the allegations concern him and his intimates. On the encroachments, Panigyris said that, «personally, I have never taken over any expanse of land. The municipality simply provides a certificate for real estate levies (TAP) and has no other involvement. As for the alleged encroachments on public land, the competent body will decide.» He categorically denied all other accusations. «Legal proceedings are started when there are accusations with the purpose of finding out if they are well-founded. I will furnish proof of my innocence during the hearings. I believe that this attack on me has been made by Mr Papoutsis and four to five other people for political reasons. Moreover, I’ve been elected for three consecutive terms, and with an overwhelming majority at that.»