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Five years after its first memorandum and Greece has yet to computerise its registery of land ownership and usage

When Greece applied for its first international bailout in 2010, only two countries in Europe lacked a computerized register of land ownership and usage. Albania was the other. Its 2015, little progress has been made in Greece.

Alex Christoforou

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When the whole, Greece is broke, saga started in 2010, the EU and IMF each identified the lack of legal certainty about property rights and land usage as a huge barrier to meaningful investment, proper taxation and eventual economic growth.

2015…Five years later and while Greece is on its third bailout and to date the lad registry issue is still less than half done complete, even though Athens spent hundreds of millions of euros with technical assistance from EU partners…where that money really went, we can only imagine.

For some context how bad it is in Greece…Albania, poorer Balkan neighbour that is a distant candidate for EU membership, has surpassed Greece and implemented a digital land registry and zoning map program.

Via Ekathimerini…

Greek newspapers call the never-ending epic of the cadastre, started in 1995 with EU funds that had to be returned to Brussels in 2003 because of misuse, “our national shame”.

It is a microcosm of everything that remains to be fixed in the country – bureaucracy, political patronage, competing layers of government, legal complexity, fiscal uncertainty, vested interests, cheating, tax evasion and opaque relations between the two biggest landowners – the state and the church.

The continued absence of a comprehensive land registry is one reason why a privatization program announced in 2011 and initially meant to raise 50 billion euros (37 billion pounds) over five years has netted a mere 3.1 billion euros to date.

Roughly half of deals so far have come from the sale or lease of state land, including a flagship plan to sell the disused Elliniko airport site next to Athens which is still stalled.

The 50 billion euro goal was reaffirmed in the third bailout package agreed in August but stretched out over 30 years.

The state cannot sell its prime real estate while disputes fester in the courts about ownership, boundaries and zoning.

“We have to give investors certainty that whatever they get from the Greek state they can actually realize,” said Lila Tsitsogiannopoulou, executive director of the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund in charge of land privatization. “We still have a long way to go. We still have so many authorities.”

Illegal house owners’ union

The country even boasts a union of illegal house owners that campaigns to legalize their homes.

Michael Vlahakis a 60-year-old pensioner from Irakleio, the main city on Greece’s largest island Crete, is president of the “Residents Outside Town Planning” club, which he says represents some 45,000 illegal home owners on the island.

“Our club is unique in Greece, in Europe and probably in the whole planet because Greece is the only country in Europe that doesn’t have a cadastre,” he told Reuters in an interview.

“We still don’t know what is mountain, what is forest and what is a building or a house.”

About two-thirds of Greeks lived in the countryside until the 1960s, when a massive rural exodus began. Now more than half live in the cities of Athens, Thessaloniki and Heraklion.

Vlahakis, who says he has built two illegal houses, one for himself and his wife, the other for his daughter, was invited to Athens four years ago to address lawmakers and ministers in parliament on the need to adapt town planning to reality.

“They haven’t done it since the mid-1980s despite the fact that Irakleio city has more than tripled in terms of houses and land since then,” he said, describing an upside-down urban development process.

“In Greece we build the houses first, then the roads, after that the infrastructure – waste system, electricity and water network – and at the end the sidewalks.”

Politicians, real estate developers and construction firms had all sabotaged the cadastre project to protect their interests, Vlahakis said.

According to Dimitris Rokos, director of planning and investment at the National Cadastre and Mapping Agency, just 25.3 percent of the country has been completely mapped, another 22 percent is in the works and contracts have yet to be awarded for just over 50 percent.

The agency has lost key staff such as the IT director and top legal experts to the private sector due to steep pay cuts under austerity measures imposed by Greece’s lenders. It also endured long months without a budget in the last five years.

It remains shackled by being a public utility company under the authority of the environment ministry, even though it is partly self-financing. The chairmanship has changed four times in as many years, mirroring successive governments, including twice this year when a hard left minister was appointed, then sacked.

Originally due to have been completed in 2008, the cadastre has an overall budget of 1.2 billion euros and is now supposed to be completed in 2020.

That seems wildly optimistic, but Rokos said the deadline could still be achieved if the agency were given greater financial and management autonomy to run more efficiently.

“It is still realistic if the government takes some basic strategic decisions by the end of the year,” he said.

European officials who have been involved in trying to help speed up the job say it is impossible to tell when it will be finished and have urged a radical simplification.

“It is so complex that no one dares to say ‘let’s make it simple’,” said Rik Wouters, a veteran Dutch cadastre official who led the European team that tried to help Greece between 2011 and late 2014, when an EU Task Force was withdrawn.

Wouters, managing director of the European Land Information Service, said in a telephone interview he had recommended the project be streamlined using tax records and old land registers to identify property holders and produce an index map locating land parcels rather than the more cumbersome delineation of boundaries to the centimeter.

Some of the problems are the legacy of history. Greece was part of the Ottoman Empire for centuries until 1830 and has since been scarred by wars, occupation and mass migration.

Most land transaction records in this nation of 11 million people, sprawling over 132,000 square km, are still handwritten in ledgers held by local registrars.

There are no title deeds for land in some parts of the country, and any area for which documents proving private ownership are not available from 1883 onward is deemed to be state land, causing endless legal disputes.

Compounding the problem, resolving business disputes through the courts takes nearly three times as long in Greece as the average in members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a rich countries’ club.

The Greek Orthodox Church has no central land registry, forcing the state cadastre agency to deal with individual monasteries or diocese to try to establish land ownership and delineate boundaries.

Documents may be two centuries old and define the limits of properties with reference to landmarks that no longer exist, or using fuzzy phrases such as “500 paces from the olive tree” or “five stone throws in this direction.”

Roughly 60 percent of the country is officially designated as forest, protected by the Greek constitution from economic exploitation. The perimeters of forests are largely delineated by aerial photographs taken shortly after World War Two.

Areas that have since been deforested, including several of the Cyclades islands, remain registered as forest even though they may not have a single tree. Much of suburban Athens is still officially forest, since the city expanded massively in the 20th century with no equivalent changes in land zoning.

Attempts to change the status quo, whether for economic development or practical purposes such as creating a cemetery to bury the dead, encounter often fierce resistance that can lead to years of litigation.

“Clearly, if you’re an illegal owner in Greece, you don’t want this cadastre project ever to be finished,” said George Papaconstantinou, who tried to speed up the exercise as environment minister in 2011 but ran into a wall of opposition.

“There is also a lot of resistance from other vested interests – surveyors, local notaries, property registrars – who could be out of a job once the project is finished. They put lots of legal and bureaucratic obstacles in the way.”

The fact that many local authorities have no master plan for land usage, and that residents or campaigners can use slow-motion litigation to wreck investment projects, compounds the problem, Papaconstantinou said.

He cited the example of a consortium that wanted to invest several hundred million euros to build an eco-friendly luxury hotel on the Aegean island of Milos.

After a five-year wait, the project was denied planning permission because it was deemed to threaten the natural habitat of a rare species of venomous snake present on only four Greek islands.

“They offered to build a special reservation for the vipers, but I couldn’t help. Even if I had approved the plan, the Council of State (Greece’s supreme administrative court) would have unraveled it,” Papaconstantinou said.

References:

http://www.ekathimerini.com/202622/article/ekathimerini/business/typically-greek-delayed-land-register-is-never-ending-epic

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Beijing Threatens “Severe” Retaliation Against Canada If Huawei CFO Is Not Released

China’s warning marks an escalation in Beijing’s rhetoric as investors worry that the arrest could cause the shaky trade detente between the US and China to devolve into acrimony.

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Via Zerohedge


Canada’s extraordinary arrest one week ago of Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Huawei founder and billionaire executive Ren Zhengfei, and its decision to charge her with “multiple” counts of fraud – a preamble to her likely extradition to the US to face charges of knowingly violating US and EU sanctions on Iran – has elicited widespread anger in Beijing, which declared Meng’s detention a “violation of human rights” during a bail hearing for the jailed executive on Friday.

That anger has apparently only intensified after the hearing adjourned without a decision (it will resume on Monday, allowing Meng’s defense team to argue for why she should be released on bail, contrary to the wishes of government attorneys who are prosecuting the case).

And with Canada insisting that it will prosecute Meng to the full extent of the law over allegations that she mislead banks about the true relationship of a Huawei subsidiary called Skycom, angry Chinese officials have decided to issue an ultimatum directly to the Canadian ambassador, who was summoned to a meeting in Beijing on Saturday and told in no uncertain terms that Canada will face “severe consequences” if Meng isn’t released, according to the Wall Street Journal.

China’s foreign ministry publicized the warning in a statement (though Canadian officials have yet to comment):

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng summoned Canada’s ambassador to Beijing, John McCallum, on Saturday to deliver the warning, according to a statement from the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

The statement doesn’t mention the name of Huawei’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, though it refers to a Huawei “principal” taken into custody at U.S. request while changing planes in Vancouver, as was Ms. Meng. The statement accuses Canada of “severely violating the legal, legitimate rights of a Chinese citizen” and demands the person’s release.

“Otherwise there will be severe consequences, and Canada must bear the full responsibility,” said the statement, which was posted online late Saturday.

Phone calls to the Canadian Embassy rang unanswered while the Canadian government’s global affairs media office didn’t immediately respond to an email request for comment.

The warning marks an escalation in Beijing’s rhetoric as investors worry that the arrest could cause the shaky trade detente between the US and China to devolve into acrimony. A federal judge issued a warrant for Meng’s arrest back in August. Though after she was made aware of the warrant, Meng avoided travel to the US. She was arrested in Vancouver last Saturday while traveling to Mexico.

Aside from breaking off trade talks, some are worried that Beijing could seek to retaliate in kind by arresting a notable US executive. While the threats of Chinese bureaucrats might not amount to much in the eyes of US prosecutors, threatening a US executive with long-term detention in a Chinese “reeducation camp” just might.

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The trials of Julian Assange

Eresh Omar Jamal interviews Italian journalist Stefania Maurizi in relation to the situation of Julian Assange.

The Duran

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Authored by Eresh Omar Jamal for The Daily Star (Bangladesh):


Stefania Maurizi is an investigative journalist working for the Italian daily La Repubblica. She has worked on all WikiLeaks releases of secret documents and partnered with Glenn Greenwald to reveal the Snowden Files about Italy. She has authored two books—Dossier WikiLeaks: Segreti Italiani and Una Bomba, Dieci Storie. In an exclusive interview with Eresh Omar Jamal of The Daily Star, Maurizi talks about the continued arbitrary detention of Julian Assange, why powerful governments see WikiLeaks as an existential threat, and the implications for global press freedom if Assange is prosecuted for publishing secret government documents.

You recently had the chance to visit Julian Assange at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. When was this and can you describe the state he is in?

I was able to visit him on November 19, after 8 months of failed attempts, because last March the Ecuadorian authorities cut off all his social and professional contacts, with the exception of his lawyers, and in the preceding 8 months, I had asked for permission to visit him nine times without success—the Ecuadorian authorities didn’t reply at all to my requests.

When I was finally granted permission to visit the WikiLeaks founder at the Ecuadorian embassy in London last November, I was literally shocked to see the huge impact his isolation has had on his health. Because I have worked as a media partner with him and his organisation, WikiLeaks, for the last nine years, I have met him many times and can tell when there are any changes in his body and mind. I wondered how his mind could keep working; but after talking to him in the embassy for two hours, I have no doubt that his mind is working fine. I still wonder how that’s possible after six and a half years of detention without even one hour of being outdoors. I would have had a physical and mental breakdown after just 6 months, not after 6 years.

Detention and isolation are killing him slowly, and no one is doing anything to stop it. The media reports, the commentators comment, but at the end of the day, he is still there; having spent the last six and a half years confined to a tiny building with no access to sunlight or to proper medical treatment. And this is happening in London, in the heart of Europe. He is not sitting in an embassy in Pyongyang. It is truly tragic and completely unacceptable. And I’m simply appalled at the way the UK authorities have contributed to his arbitrary detention, and have opposed any solution to this intractable legal and diplomatic quagmire.

Having bravely defended Assange for years, the Ecuadorian government in late March cut off almost all his communications with the outside world. What prompted this turnabout and what is its purpose?

Politics has completely changed in Ecuador, and more in general, in Latin America, since 2012, when Ecuador granted Julian Assange asylum. I have never had any interviews with the current Ecuadorian President, Mr Lenin Moreno, but based on his public declarations, it’s rather obvious to me that he does not approve of what Julian Assange and WikiLeaks do.

With all his problems, Rafael Correa (former president of Ecuador) protected Assange from the very beginning, whereas Lenin Moreno considers him a liability. Moreno is under pressure from the right-wing politicians in Ecuador, and also from very powerful governments, like the US and UK governments, who will leave no stones unturned to jail Assange and destroy WikiLeaks. I am not sure how long Lenin Moreno will hold out against this immense pressure, provided that he wants to hold out at all.

Assange was vindicated not so long ago as to why he cannot leave the embassy when the US Department of Justice “accidentally” revealed in November that the founder of WikiLeaks had been secretly charged in the US. What do you think those charges are for?

It’s hard to say unless the charges get declassified and I really appreciate how the US organisation, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, is fighting before the court in the Eastern District of Virginia, US, to have the charges declassified.

There is no doubt whatsoever that the US authorities have always wanted to charge him for WikiLeaks’ publications. They have wanted to do so from the very beginning, since 2010, when WikiLeaks released its bombshell publications like the US diplomatic cables.

But the US authorities have been unable to do so due to the fact that WikiLeaks’ publication activities enjoy constitutional protection thanks to the First Amendment. So it will be very interesting to see how they will get around this constitutional protection in order to be able to charge him and other WikiLeaks journalists and put them all in jail.

Why have some of the most powerful governments and intelligence agencies invested so much resources to attack Assange and WikiLeaks?

You have to realise what it meant for the US national security complex to witness the publication of 76,000 secret documents about the war in Afghanistan, and then another 390,000 secret reports about the war in Iraq; followed by 251,287 US diplomatic cables and 779 secret files on the Guantanamo detainees; and to watch WikiLeaks save Edward Snowden, while the US was trying everything it could do, to show the world that there is no way of exposing the NSA’s secrets and keep your head attached to your neck having done so.

You have to realise what this means in an environment like that of the US, where even the most brilliant national security reporters didn’t dare to publish the name of the head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center, Michael D’Andrea, even though his name and the abuses committed by his centre were open secrets within their inner circles. Although the New York Times finally did, later on. But this was and still is the reality in the US, and even though it may not be as bad in the UK, it’s still quite bad. Look at what happened with the arrest of Glenn Greenwald’s husband, David Miranda, at the Heathrow Airport during the publication of the Snowden Files. Look at what happened with The Guardian being forced to destroy its hard drives during the publication of those files.

There are different levels of power in our societies and generally in our western democracies, criticism against the low, medium and high levels of power via journalistic activities is tolerated. Journalists may get hit with libel cases, have troubles with their careers; however, exposing those levels is permitted. The problem is when journalists and media organisations touch the highest levels, the levels where states and intelligence agencies operate.

WikiLeaks is a media organisation that has published secret documents about these entities for years, and Julian Assange and his staff have done this consistently, not occasionally like all the other media organisations do. You can imagine the anger these powerful entities have towards WikiLeaks—they perceive WikiLeaks as an existential threat and they want to set an example that says, “Don’t you dare expose our secrets and crimes, because if you do, we will smash you.”

If Assange is prosecuted, what impact might it have on other publishers and journalists and on press freedom globally?

It will have a huge impact and that is why organisations like the American Civil Liberties Union are speaking out. Never before in the US has an editor and media organisation ended up in jail for publishing information in the public interest. If Julian Assange and the WikiLeaks’ staff end up in jail, it will be the first time in US history and will set a devastating precedent for attack on press freedom in the US, but actually, not only in the US. Because if a country like the US, in which the activities of the press enjoy constitutional protection, treats journalists this way, you can imagine how other countries where the press doesn’t enjoy such strong protection will react. It will send a clear message to them: “Your hands are free.”

At the end of the day, I think there are two sides to this Assange and WikiLeaks saga: the US-UK national security complex, but more in general, I would say, the people within the national security complex, who want to destroy Julian Assange and WikiLeaks to send a clear message to journalists: “Don’t mess with us if you don’t want your lives to be destroyed.” While on the other side, there are the freedom of the press guys, meaning journalists like me, who want to demonstrate the exact opposite: that we can expose power at the highest levels, we can expose the darkest corners of governments and come out alive and well. And actually, we must do this, because real power is invisible and hides in the darkest corners.

Eresh Omar Jamal is a journalist for The Daily Star (Bangladesh). You can find him on Twitter: @EreshOmarJamal and Stefania Maurizi: @SMaurizi

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Diplomacy a Waste of Time with Washington

Trump’s JCPOA pullout and threatened INF Treaty withdrawal show Washington can never be trusted.

The Duran

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Authored by Stephen Lendman:


The US is a serial lawbreaker, operating by its own rules, no others.

Time and again, it flagrantly breaches international treaties, Security Council resolutions, and other rule of law principles, including its own Constitution.

Diplomacy with Republicans and undemocratic Dems is an exercise in futility.

Trump’s JCPOA pullout and threatened INF Treaty withdrawal show Washington can never be trusted.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova’s proposed US outreach to discuss INF Treaty bilateral differences is well intended – despite knowing nothing is accomplished when talks with Washington are held, so why bother.

It’s just a matter of time before the US breaches another promise. They’re hollow when made. Kremlin good intentions aren’t enough to overcome US duplicity and implacable hostility toward Russia.

“We are ready to continue the dialogue in appropriate formats on the entire range of problems related to this document on the basis of professionalism and mutual respect, without putting forward unsubstantiated accusations and ultimatums. Our proposals are well known and remain on the negotiating table,” said Zakharova, adding:

“We have admitted (US) documents for further consideration. This text again includes accusations in the form of unfounded and unsubstantiated information about Russia’s alleged violations of this deal.

Comments to Washington like the above and similar remarks are like talking to a wall. The US demands all countries bend to its will, offering nothing in return but betrayal – especially in dealings with Russia, China, Iran, and other sovereign independent governments it seeks to replace with pro-Western puppet ones.

Not a shred of evidence suggests Russia violated its INF Treaty obligations. The accusation is baseless like all others against the Kremlin.

“No one has officially or by any other means handed over to Russia any files or facts, confirming that Russia breaches or does not comply with this deal,” Zakharova stressed, adding:

“We again confirm our consistent position that the INF Treaty is one of the key pillars of strategic stability and international security.”

It’s why the Trump regime intends abolishing it by pulling out. Strategic stability and international security defeat its agenda. Endless wars and chaos serve it.

The US, UK, France, Israel, and their imperial partners get away with repeated international law breaches because the EU, UN, and rest of the world community lack backbone enough to challenge them.

It’s how it is no matter how egregious their actions, notably their endless wars of aggression, supporting the world’s worst tinpot pot despots, and failing to back the rights of persecuted Palestinians and other long-suffering people.

The only language Republicans and Dems understand is toughness. Putin pretends a Russian/US partnership exists to his discredit – a show of weakness, not strength and responsible leadership.

In response to the Trump regime’s intention to withdraw from the INF Treaty, he said Russia will “react accordingly” – precisely what, he didn’t say.

A few suggestions, Mr. President.

  • Recall your ambassador to Washington. Expel the Trump regime’s envoy from Moscow and other key embassy personnel.
  • Arrest US spies in Russia you long ago identified. Imprison them until the US releases all Russian political prisoners. Agree to swap US detainees for all of them, no exceptions.
  • Install enough S-400 air defense systems to cover all Syrian airspace. Warn Washington, Britain, France and Israel that their aircraft, missiles and other aerial activities in its airspace will be destroyed in flight unless permission from Damascus is gotten – clearly not forthcoming.
  • Publicly and repeatedly accuse the above countries of supporting the scourge of ISIS and likeminded terrorists they pretend to oppose.
  • Warn them in no uncertain terms that their aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic no longer will be tolerated. Tell them the same goes if they dare attack Iran.
  • Stop pretending Mohammad bin Salman didn’t order Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, along with ignoring the kingdom’s horrendous human rights abuses domestically and abroad – including support for ISIS and other terrorists.
  • Put observance of rule of law principles and honor above dirty business as usual with the kingdom and other despotic regimes for profits.
  • Do the right things at all times and damn the short-term consequences – including toughness on Washington, the UK, Israel, and their imperial partners in high crimes of war and against humanity.

VISIT MY NEW WEB SITE: stephenlendman.org (Home – Stephen Lendman). Contact at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

My newest book as editor and contributor is titled “Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III.”

www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html

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