Warsaw mayor faces summons on estate returns

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Warsaw's city mayor and other officials will be summoned this month to testify before a special state commission investigating questionable restitution of private property that was seized under communism, the deputy justice minister said Monday.

The commission was formed recently in response to growing outrage at some of the returns, which concern highly valuable plots and buildings, in Warsaw and some other cities, that were seized by the state from private owners — Poles, Jews and others — under a 1945 communist-era decree.

In the 1990s, democratic Poland opened the possibility of the return of property, but in many cases the process has gone wrong, the rightful heirs have been tricked out of their rights and the tenants evicted by the new owners, sometimes with nowhere to go.

The commission led by Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki will review dozens of cases. It has the power to take wrong decisions to court to seek their reversal or compensation for the rightful inheritors. It is beginning with restitutions in Warsaw.

Jaki said Monday that the first hearings will be June 28-30 and will concern two plots of land in Twarda street, on which a building was built after World War II and from where a renowned high school was evicted as part of restitution of the land to a Warsaw businessman. A relative of the pre-war Jewish owners recently claimed rights to the plots.

Warsaw's mayor since 2006, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, refuses to appear and has questioned the commission's authority. The panel wants to know to what extent she was aware of irregularities that have been described in the media.

"This only shows that the mayor is very much afraid to face the commission and answer questions which, I believe, could be difficult for her," Jaki said.

A house returned to Gronkiewicz-Waltz's family is among those being investigated.

Some other city officials have been put under arrest on suspicion of helping in the irregular restitutions and will be brought before the panel.