Courts take 29 years to resolve illegal expropriation by council

… and family still kept waiting for €473,000 judges rule is owed to them

In a case that has been described as the “antithesis of justice”, a Portuguese family has been kept waiting for nearly three decades for money it was due ‘right from the start’.

This shameful case has seen not only the main defendant die, but two of the lawyers pleading his case.

José Pais do Amaral, the most recent lawyer to defend the family, has labelled the situation a “disgrace” – not least because even when the Supreme Administrative Court found in his clients’ favour (and against that of the council/ State) the council/ State has failed to pay what was ordered.

One of the heirs of the original defendant is now in her 90s. She has told Correio da Manhã that the family “always won in court” over the years – but the decisions were always appealed.

Her father “thought that compensation awarded for this miscarriage of justice would have helped his children and grandchildren have a better life” – but so far, none of them has seen a ‘cêntimo’.

This all began in 1994 when the Municipality of Batalha compulsorily purchased 11,000 square metres of olive trees and orchards from José Pereira Grosso for €42, 217. The argument for expropriation was that the land was going to be used for ‘use by the public’. But no such use transpired. Instead, the municipality changed the land use classification and sold it off in plots for urbanisation, clearing a cool half million euros.

Realising this was the plan, José Pereira Grosso tried to recover his land, and reverse the decision to parcel it up in to urban plots, on the basis that he had been told of a “different destiny to the one given for the expropriation”. The council simply overruled the complaint, hence his recourse to ‘justice’ which has taken so exceptionally long.

José Pais do Amaral tells CM that the Public Prosecutor’s Office had taken the last appeal (to the Supreme Court) on the basis that the whole case should be heard again, as it had been worded inadequately. The judges threw out these arguments, ensuring once and for all the case was ‘closed’. There are no further appeals allowed under Portuguese law. Had the Public Prosecutor won its appeal, the case could have been stretched out to 50-60 years, muses Pais do Amaral, which would have been “something unprecedented in the world”.

Maria do Céu Rodrigues, one of the original defendant’s children, told CM that the family stuck with this case, through all the obstacles and adversity, because it was a promise they made their father. “We could have done so much with that land”, she said. “But we got nothing. The sacrifice of my father and his family before him served for nothing…”

Ironically, Batalha municipality has assured CM that since the final decision by the Supreme Court (in February this year), they have “deployed multiple steps to articulate payment” with the Ministry of Territorial Cohesion (one of the entities ‘condemned’).

The source explains. “The difficulties that arose in articulation with the Ministry of Territorial Cohesion and the Ministry of Finance (have) stopped the payment from taking place”.

As one of the heirs has stressed. It is not as if the compensation is even ‘up to date’ with modern values. It was set years ago, representing the difference between what the family originally received, and the profit made by the municipality which essentially swindled them. The court rulings have not even included ‘interest’ in the payment the family should be receiving.

The only ‘good news’ from this story is that in exposing this ‘antithesis of justice’ (in a country already known for the geriatric snail’s pace of the legal system) CM has been told by Batalha’s municipal source that the council expects payment, finally, of the €473,000, to be ‘articulated’ “in the short term”.

[email protected]