Does Germany owe Greece wartime reparations money?

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German soldiers raising the German war flag over the AcropolisImage source, German Federal Archives

The Greek government has threatened to seize German property as compensation for Nazi crimes in World War Two. The government says its calculations indicate that Germany should pay nearly €279bn ($303bn; £204bn).

But what does Germany owe Greece, if anything, and why?

What are the claims based on?

The Nazi occupation of Greece from 1940-44 was among the most savage - around 250,000 people died, mostly from starvation.

Image source, Getty Images

Massacres include the one at Kalavryta where about 500 people were killed. At issue now is compensation for the killing of 218 civilians in Distomo in 1944. In 2000, the Greek Supreme Court ruled Germany should pay €28m ($30m; £19.7m) to the relatives of those killed, although the decision was not enforced, and the dispute effectively reached stalemate in international courts in the following years.

Justice Minister Nikos Paraskevopoulos has said he is ready to approve that ruling.

Media caption,

Greek battle for World War ll Nazi war crime reparations

Why is it an issue now?

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says he has a duty to pursue reparations. He set the tone for his presidency early on by laying a wreath at a memorial to a massacre of Greeks by German soldiers in Athens.

He also raised the compensation issue when he met Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin in March.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The memorial in Athens commemorates hundreds of Greeks who were executed by Nazi occupation forces

But Greece's wartime enemy is now its major creditor.

Greek relations with Germany have deteriorated in recent years because of the financial crisis, with Germany one of the big contributors to the eurozone bailout that began in 2010.

The new leftist government argues austerity measures should be relaxed, a demand opposed by Germany. It negotiated a four-month extension to its €240bn bailout in February after tense talks with creditors.

How much has Germany paid?

Berlin paid 115m Deutschmarks to Athens in 1960 in compensation. It was a fraction of the Greek demand but was made with the agreement there would be no more claims. Greece says the 1960 deal did not cover key demands, including payments for damaged infrastructure, war crimes and the return of a forced loan exacted from occupied Greece.

Germany insists the issue of compensation was settled in 1990 legally and politically before Germany reunified and has questioned why Greece did not negotiate when it entered the eurozone.

How much does Greece still want?

The new figure of €278.7bn was given by Greek Deputy Finance Minister Dimitris Mardas on 6 April. It was based on calculations by Greece's General Accounting Office.

That total includes €10.3bn that Greece wants as compensation for the forced loan that the Nazis extorted from the Bank of Greece.

An earlier estimate of the Greek compensation demand, based on a leak, was different. It estimated the claim at up to €162bn: that is, €108bn for destroyed infrastructure and €54bn for the forced loan.

How could the money be reclaimed?

The Supreme Court ruling in 2000 allowed for German-owned property to be seized as compensation, though it was never acted on by the then Justice Minister Michalis Stathopoulos.

Among possible assets are property belonging to Germany's archaeological school and the Goethe Institute, a cultural association.

Image source, EPA