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Athens threatens to seize German assets

March 11, 2015

Germany's refusal to pay further World War II reparations has drawn a warning from Greece's justice minister that he will authorize a seizure of German assets. Berlin says compensation was long since "resolved."

Deutschland Griechenland EU Flagge vor Kanzleramt in berlin
Image: Reuters

Justice Minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos said on Wednesday he was ready to implement a Greek court ruling that 28 million euros ($29.7 million) was owed for the Nazi murder of 218 people in the Greek town of Distomo in 1944.

Athens' insistence on reparations coincided with two days of procedural talks that started in Brussels on Wednesday on reforms demanded by eurozone lenders in return for further bailouts of Greece's crippled economy. Last month, they agreed to extend Greece's deadline until June.

Assets identified by Greece's Supreme Court in 2000 were Germany's Goethe Institute and the German Archeological Institute in Athens.

Paraskevopoulos told private Ant1 television that seizure permission should be granted and as minister "I am ready to give it."

Paraskevopoulos' remarks followed a Greek parliament decision on Tuesday to pursue war reparations despite rejection reiterated in recent weeks by Germany.

Berlin argues that all remaining reparation issues were settled in the Two-plus-Four agreement which reunified Germany in 1990.

Already 'resolved'

On Wednesday, Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman Steffen Seifert said: "It is our firm belief that questions of reparations and compensation have been legally and politically resolved."

German Finance Ministry spokesman, Martin Jäger, said Athens' reparation demands were a distraction from the serious financial issues facing Greece.

Griechenland Nikos Paraskevopoulos Justizminister
Paraskevopoulos said he was ready to implement the court rulingImage: imago

"The aim is to look ahead jointly. Being emotive and making retrospective accusations will not help in overcoming the current problems," Jäger said, adding that a 1960 accord resolved the issue of 115 million Deutschmarks owed to Greece.

European Parliament Vice President Alexander Graf Lambsdorff of Germany said Athen's threat to seize assets was "irresponsible" and destroyed "remaining good will" Greece needed in Germany's parliament.

Demands 'justified'

Opposition Left party member Annette Groth, who heads a German-Greek group in the Bundestag parliament said the Greek government's demands "are justified."

Groth said Greece's previous government under ex-premier Antonis Samaras had calculated that Germany owed 11 billion euros for loans extracted from Greece in 1942 by Nazi-German occupiers.

Groth said in Germany there had been only a very deficient evaluation of the Nazi wartime occupation of Greece and the inhumanities perpetrated.

"It is reprehensible that the federal government wants to have nothing to do with it," she said, adding that Greece very much needed funds to mitigate its societal hardship.

This month alone, Greece must drum up six billion euros to meet debts, including 1.5 billion euros owed to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Experts 'welcome' in Athens

The office of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Wednesday that expert teams from the IMF, European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Commission were welcome to visit Athens to collect previously agreed data.

Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis said on Wednesday that Greece's new leftist government elected in January remained "radically opposed" to privatizations of state infrastructure and energy firms thought to be "neo-liberal" lenders.

ipj/rc (dpa, Reuters, AFP, AP)