Warsaw officials fired over property restitution questions

Warsaw's mayor said Friday she was firing three officials for what she described as lax oversight over town hall's decisions to return property seized by the communists into private hands.

Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz also said she wants a special commission to review every restitution that took place in Warsaw since 1990, when claims for return of property became possible, after a transition to democracy. The property was seized from all owners: Poles, Jews and other nationals.

However, Poland remains to be the only nation in central and eastern Europe without proper restitution legislation, and claims are handled by courts which support or deny them. A legislation regulating some of the issues is to take effect in the coming days.

Irregularities in the restitution of Warsaw's private property have long been public knowledge, but this recently became a hot topic in the media in an apparent political struggle for administrative control of the capital city. The focus is on a downtown plot of land, valued at some 160 million zlotys ($42 million,) that was returned to claimants even though compensation for it was paid in the 1950s.

Since 2006, Warsaw has been ruled by the centrist Civic Platform that is in the opposition now to the nationally governing Law and Justice party.

Going back to 1990 takes in the period in 2002-2005 when Law and Justice ran the city and issued some restitution decisions. Other mayors were chiefly linked to parties that gave rise to the Civic Platform.

Observers say the government is seeking to discredit the mayor and gain control, ahead of 2018 local elections.

Gronkiewicz-Waltz said she bears no responsibility for the irregularities, but fired three officials who were in charge of issuing restitution decisions, saying they failed in "diligence and accuracy" in checking facts before they approved the return of the downtown plot and of other property.

Pawel Spiewak, a city councilor for the "City is Ours" group, has told The Associated Press he believes many of the decisions, which hurt tenants in restituted houses, were conscious and intentional.