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European Court rules against Greece over gold mine land sale

Land sold to Canadian mining company for €15m less than what it was worth, which the ECJ said represented a subsidy

ECJ's ruling was described as a personal victory and vindication by Tolis Papageorgiou, who referred the sale to the European Commission in 2009 alleging it was a violation of competition law

The mines are being constructed in forest areas The mines are being constructed in forest areas The sale of state land in northern Greece to a Canadian-controlled gold mining company was unlawful and contrary to the principles of the common market, the European Court of Justice ruled on Wednesday.

In 2011 ruling, the ECJ said the sale of facilities and land at Stratoni and Olympiada to the Hellas Gold company for €15m was below the market price for the property in question, which is against European law.

Deeming the price difference to be a subsidy to the mining company, the ECJ gave the Greek government four months in which to recover the €15m, following a case brought by Hellenic Mining Watch and Tolis Papageorgiou.

That didn't happen within the timeframe provided, leading to Wednesday's ruling.

Wednesday's ECJ ruling was a personal victory and vindication, Papageorgiou told Eleftherotypia, particularly given attempts by the police to label the opposition to mining in Halkidiki as a "criminal organisation". He referred the sale to the European Commission in 2009, alleging it was a violation of competition law.

A local municipal councillor, Michalis Vlachopoulos, said the ECJ's ruling exposed the government's intentions as regards the mine, recalling that the environmental impact statement on the project was approved within a week of then environment minister George Papaconstantinou assuming office.
"At a time when the country was in need, the government provided facilities, public land and millions of euros to a business and accuses us that we are not concerned about investments and the public interest."

"The court's judgement is a vindication of the people of northeastern Halkidiki, who are struggling daily for their lives and their future," said a lawyer representing residents, Vasilis Tzimourtos. "It shows that a crime has taken place that is not only environmental and social, but also economic."

In a statement following the ECJ's ruling, Hellas Gold said that after it had been notified about the debt on 25 April 2012, it immediately responded by providing a letter of guarantee to pay the €15m plus interest, which it completed by 30 June 2013, paying a total of €21.6m.

Also on Wednesday, a public prosecutor, Anna Karamoschoglou, ordered a preliminary investigation and environmental inspections following reports that Hellas Gold was illegally transporting and storing toxic material extracted from its mines.

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