News & Media
print this page send this page
News & Media
Exiled king set for victory in battle over Greek estate
3 June 2001
Category: Interviews

An article on HM King Constantine in The Sunday Times newspaper, printed in London.

Exiled king set for victory in battle over Greek estate

Peter Conradi and Thanasis Lalas, Athens.
The Sunday Times, London. 3 June 2001

When he last attempted to return to his homeland in 1993, his yacht was chased out of Greek territorial waters by gunboats and fighter planes. Revenge may prove sweet for the former King Constantine, however, as he awaits the culmination of an acrimonious property battle with the government in Athens.

Constantine, 60, who has lived in exile in Britain since 1974, made a detailed submission last week to the European Court of Human Rights, demanding the return of three properties worth £328m that were confiscated in 1994.

Among them is a sprawling estate at Tatoi, near Athens, home to the former monarch's ancestors for more than 150 years and the site of the cemetery in which they are buried.

The move followed a ruling last November by the Strasbourg court, condemning the Greek government for its failure to compensate the former monarch for the seizure of the properties, which also include Mon Repos, a magnificent house on the island of Corfu in which the Duke of Edinburgh was born.

"They took away my house and my parents' graves," Constantine said in an interview in his Hampstead home. "One day when one of my grandchildren is old enough, he will ask me why I let them take it.

"What I'm reclaiming was not given to me by the Greek government. My great-grandfather paid money to buy it. How can you tell me that 150 years later this is not my house? Is this some kind of revenge for the last 150 years?"

Given a choice of money or the property, he would prefer the latter. "I want my house. I don't understand why Greek people would have to be burdened with [paying compensation]," he said.

Constantine was 23 in March 1964 when he became king on the death of his father. Three years later the colonels seized power in a coup.

Although initially determined to resist, he said he quickly realised the hopelessness of his position. Within hours, he was signing decrees for the generals. That night he even had his photograph taken with them, an act for which many Greeks have never forgiven him.

"In the picture I look solemn and since people were used to seeing my smile, I thought they would realise that I did not support them," Constantine said. "Today, I realise it was a wrong move."

Nine months later, he tried to organise a counter-coup but it failed and he fled to Italy.

After the military regime disintegrated in 1974, restoration of the monarchy was rejected in a referendum by 69% of the people and the royal family's land was expropriated.

Constantine moved to London, studying and then turning to business. Much of his time is spent dealing with the estimated 80,000 letters a year he still receives from Greeks.

The expropriation of the royal property was reversed in 1979 and Constantine began his quest to regain control of it; he went to King Juan Carlos of Spain and asked him to persuade Felipe Gonzalez, the socialist who became prime minister in 1982, to raise the issue with Andreas Papandreou, his Greek counterpart.

After four years of talks, they were days away from signing an agreement when Papandreou had a heart attack.

The former king subsequently struck a deal with Constantine Mitsotakis, Papandreou's conservative successor, but one of Papandreou's first acts after returning to power in October 1993 was to pass a law confiscating the property again. The new government also discouraged Constantine from visiting Greece by insisting he adopt a surname and apply for a passport as an ordinary citizen.

Besides Tatoi and Mon Repos, Constantine is also demanding the return of Polydendri, an estate near the foot of Mount Olympus.

The Greek government has rejected any talk of compensation, claiming Constantine owes £17m more than the total value of the properties in inheritance and other taxes - a claim he rejects. "I owe nothing," he said. "You only owe something if you receive a statement and fail to pay. I cannot pay debts from a time during which the king was not required to pay any property taxes."

Telemachos Hytiris, a spokesman for the Greek government, said the amount of compensation due to the royal family was "nil". Reports in the Greek press have suggested, however, that the government may offer him £18m-£27m and Polydendri - but not Tatoi.

The Greek government justified its decision to confiscate the properties on the grounds that they were obtained in "dubious circumstances" by Constantine's ancestors.

In a 15-2 ruling last November, however, the court said the Greeks had failed to give a convincing explanation of why they had "not awarded any compensation to the applicants for the taking of their property".

Browse our extensive media gallery using the options below.
Containing media:
Video Clip
Audio Clip

Press Releases
In The Press
   © 2006-2011 Greek Royal Family Site Index | Legal Information | Site Credits