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18 September, 2001
Greece's supreme court, on Monday initiated discussion on an appeal by relatives of hundreds of civilians summarily executed in 1943 by Nazi occupation forces to annul a decision to convene the High Special Court (AED), which was called on to decide the legality of the confiscation and auctioning of German state properties in Greece in compensation for the families of the victims.
AED is a special judicial body composed of justices of Arios Pagos - Greece's supreme court - and by justices of the Council of State - Greece's highest administrative court. AED is called to session when the two judicial bodies issue conflicting decisions over the same case, as it happened in this instance.
This was one of the very rare instances that AED has been called upon to decide a case.
At stake, in this complex legal battle, are the buildings housing the Goethe Institute and the German Archaeological Society in Athens.
Lawyers for the families of the victims argued that Berlin showed bad faith in its continual efforts to sidetrack the whole process with back-to-back appeals.
Berlin's lawyers argued that no legal interest exists in additional legal action on the part of the families of the victims.
Earlier in the day, an appeals court froze the execution of a court order of confiscation and auctioning of the German state properties, accepting the arguments put forward by lawyers representing Berlin.
In its decision, the appellate court said it had accepted arguments by the German side that the ruling was invalid because the consent of the Greek justice minister was required for the seizure of foreign state assets and this had not been obtained.
The relatives filing the class-action suit against Germany said they would apply to have the ruling revoked by the Supreme Court.
Greek Foreign Ministry:
On his part, commenting on the affair, foreign ministry spokesman Panos Beglitis said the government would wait until the judicial process had run its course before deciding to grant diplomatic protection to the two buildings, which he said had played a very important role in Greek-German bilateral ties.
Greek Justice Minister Michalis Stathopoulos last Friday said that he would not authorize the confiscation and auctioning of the two properties, even if the appellate court upheld the original ruling.
Meanwhile, a High Special Court (AED) is due to convene on Wednesday over the case, though sources said that the meeting would most likely be postponed because a report on the highly sensitive issue was not ready.
One of the points raised in the German side's appeal is that of exterritoriality, i.e. whether Greek lower courts retain jurisdiction to hear cases involving foreign states.
The Livadia ruling had initially found in favor of the relatives of 214 Distomo villagers shot dead by German occupation forces, ordering Germany to pay 9.4 billion drachmas in compensation.
Berlin has consistently refused to entertain the possibility of more compensation payments, saying that no private citizen can sue a state and that Germany has already paid blanket compensation under post-war reparations to Greece.
In 1960, West Germany paid a total of 115 million German marks to Greek victims of Nazi oppression. The relevant treaty signed between Germany and Greece did not, however, bar other Greek citizens with claims from coming forward and seeking compensation.
Source: Athens News Agency