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Germany

Liechtenstein Takes Germany to Court

The International Court of Justice, the UN's highest legal body, will decide on Thursday whether to investigate a complaint filed by Liechtenstein against Germany regarding alleged post-war seizing of assets.

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Many Liechtenstein nationals were evicted from Czechoslovakia in 1945

The tiny European state of Liechtenstein filed the complaint in June 2001 accusing Berlin of violating the principality's sovereignty. It alleges that Germany, in a post-World War II treaty with Prague, agreed that nationals from Liechtenstein could be seen as German nationals and their assets in Czechoslovakia could be seized.

"The property of these Liechtenstein nationals seized under these decrees has never been returned to its owners nor has compensation been offered or paid," the application of Liechtenstein states. Liechtenstein wants the court to order Germany to make reparations for the damages suffered.

"Germany seized the right to consider properties belonging to Liechtenstein as German assets abroad," Liechtenstein representative James Crawford said at a preliminary hearing in June last year.

Prince hopes for massive payout

Hans-Adam von Liechtenstein

Prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein.

Most of the assets concerned in the court case are being claimed by ruling prince Hans-Adam II of Liechtenstein who hopes to get millions or even billions if Germany is forced to pay damages. The royal family is also claiming a large chunk of the Czech Republic and is still at odds with Prague over the issue as well.

In 1945 Czechoslovakia seized German and Hungarian property located on its territory under the so-called Benes decrees. Prague did not only apply the decrees to German or Hungarian nationals but also to people allegedly of German or Hungarian origin including the "Sudeten Germans" and Liechtenstein nationals. The decrees provided a legal basis for the eviction of Czechoslovakian ethnic Germans, the Sudeten Germans, and some 2.4 million of them were expelled.

Germany maintains innocence

Germany has raised preliminary objections to the case asking the court to declare that it is not competent to rule on the conflict. Berlin argues the assets were seized by Czechoslovakia after the German defeat in 1945 and Germany was not responsible for that seizure.

The ICJ, which was established in 1946 and is mandated to rule in conflict between states, is not expected to go into the merits of the case on Thursday but will only rule on whether or not it is competent to decide in this case. It usually takes several years before the 15-judge panel of the court hands down a final decision in a case.

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