NEWS

Nerves fray as (ex) king’s ransom nears

Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos were involved in a heated exchange during yesterday’s Cabinet meeting, when the discussion turned to the demands for compensation made by Greece’s former king, Constantine. The discussion highlighted the difficulty the government faces, as its appears likely that the European Court of Human Rights will vote in favor of Constantine’s compensation within two months. Venizelos, a professor of constitutional law, drew up the 1994 legislation by which Constantine and the former royal family were stripped of their properties in Tatoi, north of Athens, Polydendri in Thessaly and the Mon Repos estate in Corfu. The Cabinet meeting discussed the «unreasonable, provocative, unacceptable and absurd demands» of the former king, government spokesman Christos Protopappas said. The court ruled last year that Constantine is entitled to compensation. A government-sponsored assessment of the value of the seized property came to 187.5 billion drachmas, but it also stated that the former royal family owed 197 billion drachmas in taxes, state expenses and maintenance. Simitis reportedly spoke of «mistakes of the past» in reference to the period during which his predecessor Andreas Papandreou headed the government. Venizelos immediately intervened, sources said, and defended that government’s decisions. Papandreou governed from 1993 to 1996, when ill health forced him to resign and the PASOK Parliamentary group picked Simitis to replace him. Venizelos suggested that the Simitis government had wavered in its dealings with the former king, charging that «if the policy of that time had continued, then the Greek side would not have been driven to the present impasse.» The tension eased when the prime minister said that his comment had not been aimed at Venizelos. The sources said that Simitis confirmed that Athens would stick to its hard line in its dispute with the former king, using all weapons at its disposal, such as outstanding tax issues, in order to limit the amount of compensation it will be called on to pay the former king. The monarchy was abolished by a 1974 referendum.