NEWS

State expropriating land without compensation

In recent decades something unique has been occurring in Greece, something not encountered in any other country. The Greek state has been expropriating private land for decades, chiefly to meet town-planning needs, but has not been able to pay compensation. This practice stands in stark contrast to the state’s own severity in seeking even the smallest amounts of money owed to it by its citizens. According to the Citizens’ Ombudsman, only 550 people have lodged complaints of this nature for properties that have been expropriated for 20, or even 70, years. Apart from the social aspect of the problem there is also the economic cost, which is naturally borne by the taxpayer. Owners of these properties are beginning to take recourse to the European Court of Human Rights and are winning large amounts in compensation which the Interior Ministry is required to pay within six months. Since these rulings do not take the actual value of the land into account, the state ends up paying far more than it would have otherwise. One civil engineer who lost a piece of land in this way has been going through the courts, both local and European, since 1987. Although he has won his case, the Municipality of Neo Psychico, where the property is situated, has turned a deaf ear. His trials began when he bought a piece of land of just over 7,700 square meters near the Faros intersection in Neo Psychico. Although he was given a written assurance from the municipality – which is a requirement for the issuing of a building permit, which was approved by the Environment and Public Works Ministry – he was presented with the first expropriation order, which cited environmental reasons (the site was scheduled for a park and underground parking). The country’s highest administrative court, the Council of State, ruled the expropriation illegal, and the courts set compensation at the amount of 285 million drachmas according to an estimate from the taxation bureau at the time, with a total amount due of 732 million drachmas. In 1991 the Appeals Court ruled for the abolition of the first expropriation order (many others had followed) «due to the non-payment of compensation within the set time limit.» The municipality did not have the money to pay the compensation and it did not abide by the court rulings, so the owner took recourse to the European Court of Human Rights which, recognizing that he had been deprived of the use of his property as he saw fit, set a compensation amount of 3,920,000 euros, to be paid by the state within two months. The owner then went to the Citizens’ Ombudsman and made a new application to the courts for compensation (1,313,000 euros) The courts ruled for the cancellation of the expropriation order, but the municipality took recourse to the Council of State, which was to convene yesterday on the issue, but the hearing was postponed until next March. A similar case under consideration by the Citizens’ Ombudsman is the expropriation of a property in Plaka which has been unresolved for 15 years. The owner has applied to have the expropriation order annulled since the purpose for which it was carried out has not been fulfilled – that is, the completion of archaeological excavations and display of the finds. These violations of the law not only destroy people’s faith in the system, the state sets up an obstacle course by using every administrative means available to avoid paying compensation, and the owner is forced to take further recourse to justice.