NEWS

Long war over large swath of Glyfada

For years now, the same tactics have been used – when someone can’t usurp a plot of forestland for housing development, they set fire to it. Scorched earth means land for the taking. In the district of Aixoni, in the southern Athens suburb of Glyfada, the encroachment upon state forest property has become a scandal. Twice within the space of a year, sections of reforested land (on Mount Hymettus, protection zones A and B) have been set ablaze, resulting in the destruction of several hectares of young trees. Several questions have been raised regarding the role of the relevant ministry services which have been aware of the situation for years, after briefings from other civil services and the courts. For about 10 years, the Municipality of Glyfada, six prosecutors and the Joint Advisory Council have been struggling to save this undeveloped state forested area in Glyfada, which over the decades has been divided up and sold as private land. So far their efforts have been to no avail. An invisible network of interests has ensured that damning reports showing evidence of fraud have been filed away in ministry drawers. The involvement of para-judicial circles is also suspected. The matter came into the public eye in 2003 after the sale of a 62.08-hectare piece of land at Aixoni in 1997 which met with obstacles at the Land Registry. In the hope of solving the problem, the buyers took legal action. A thorough investigation uncovered both the misdeeds of the buyers and the long history of land encroachment, not only on that particular site but throughout the area. In other words, it showed how 3,600 hectares of dense pine forest, all state land in the suburb of Glyfada, had been arbitrarily taken over in 1920 by the Karapanos «estate» which was in fact only 80 hectares, as well as areas in what is now Ano Kalamaki, part of Argyroupolis and Hellenikon. All of what is now Glyfada (1,200 hectares) comes from the Karapanos estate, which was divided up and sold to private individuals and cooperatives or bequeathed. The Joint Advisory Council (comprising the Forestry Ownership Review Council and the Public Property Advisory Council) studied the property status of the area for six years and in 2000 ruled that what was known as the Karapanos estate was in fact state forest and that the state could lay claim to all unbuilt land owned by Karapanos’s heirs outside town limits – estimated at about 1,100 hectares. The ruling was not accepted by the ministries of Agriculture, Finance, or Environment and Public Works. These ministries as well as the Justice Ministry and the State Legal Council kept mum about the issue a year later when they were sent the lengthy, damning judicial report. In February 1997, an 89-year-old pensioner, A.B., sold a large piece of land in Aixoni on the beautiful, wooded, western slopes of Mount Hymettus, which he had supposedly inherited from Elpida Kyriazopoulou-Vaou, to two middle-aged Cypriots who were permanent residents of London. The land, 62.08 hectares in size, was sold at the outrageously low price of 110 million drachmas, considering that the local tax office had valued the property at 21.7 billion drachmas. Complaints led to the intervention of first instance court prosecutor Georgios Koliocostas, who ordered a preliminary investigation. Public prosecutor Georgios Gerakas conducted the investigation and Koliocostas charged the notary public, the vendor and the two buyers with the felonies of forgery against the state and false declaration. In March of 1998, the two purchasers lodged an application with the Palaio Faliron registry office to register the contract. But, as a year had gone by since it had been signed, the registrar asked the Glyfada tax office for a re-evaluation of the property so as to calculate the cost of registration. The Glyfada tax office, informed by Koliocostas of the forged documents and legal charges, received an order from him to delay the evaluation. Time passed but the two buyers insisted on getting the contract registered. In June 2001, they asked the new chief prosecutor of the first instance courts, Ioannis Sakellakos, to countermand Koliocostas’s order to postpone the re-evaluation. Sakellakos conducted an investigation and discovered that the vendor, by then 89 (and since deceased), had not inherited the land from Kyriazopoulou-Vaou as she had eventually replaced that will with another in her own hand. Sakellakos confirmed that the sales contract was drawn up on the basis of two forged documents, a forged tax authority document certifying that the vendor had paid the inheritance tax, and a forged document purporting to be from the Pendeli forestry authority to the effect that the land was not forest – in a 1999 land classification act, the Pendeli authority states that the 62.08 hectares in question is «forest and scrubland.» More importantly, he showed that the land being sold was part of a 3,600-hectare public expanse that had been encroached upon. In other words, the land did not belong either to Kyriazopoulou-Vaou or to those who transferred it to her because it had never been privately owned land. Sakellakos provides plenty of evidence for his opinion in his 35-page document. But his rebuff did not deter the two buyers – who applied to a court insisting that the contract be registered – or the court under judge Antonia Ilia, which ruled in favor of the buyers and forced the Glyfada Land Registry to register the contract in January 2003. A short while earlier, on December 2, 2002, a document (1084182/467/B0013) from the Finance Ministry’s Public Property Department had been sent to the Glyfada taxation office ordering a re-evaluation (something that had been blocked by two public prosecutors) of the value of the 62.08 hectares in Aixoni in order to facilitate the transfer of the contract. The then appeals prosecutor and now Supreme Court prosecutor, Georgios Sanidas, appealed against Ilia’s ruling and on August 6, 2003, an appeals court canceled the sales contract. The two buyers, however, did not give up and in January 2004 went to the Supreme Court. The hearing is still pending – the prosecutor has recommended that the case be thrown out.