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Top Greek court backs key bailout-linked development project

February 22, 2018

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras waits for the arrival of the Irish President Michael D. Higgins during a welcome ceremony at Maximos Mansion in Athens, Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018. Moody's ratings agency upgraded Greece's credit rating by two notches late Wednesday to B3, saying the country is set to return to market-based funding following the conclusion of its current bailout program in the summer. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece’s supreme court has approved a large private urban development project on the prime seaside site of the old Athens airport, which is a key element of the country’s bailout program.

The decision made public Thursday says that the development at Hellenikon is in accordance with Greece’s constitution and laws, but stressed that it must strictly adhere to environmental and building regulations.

The court also said planned construction of several skyscrapers on the site — bypassing existing limitations on high buildings — can go ahead for reasons of public interest.

The 620-hectare (1,500-acre) plot was sold under Greece’s creditor-mandated privatization program to a consortium led by Greek Lamda Development, which is planning an 8-billion-euro ($9.4-billion) investment including a park, housing, shopping areas and hotels.

Greece’s European creditors have been pressing for speedy approval of the project. Together with delays in promised online auctions of homes with defaulted mortgages, the issue has held up payment of a rescue loan installment to the Greek government worth 5.7 billion euros ($7.1 billion).

Critics have opposed the Hellenikon project citing environmental and heritage concerns. Ancient cemeteries and a prehistoric settlement have been found in the area.

Also Thursday, Greek lawmakers approved the sale of a 67-percent stake of the Thessaloniki Port Authority in Greece’s second-largest city, in a deal worth 232 million euros ($285 million).

Parliament ratified the concession agreement through 2051 which was signed in December with the consortium South Europe Gateway Thessaloniki. The consortium is comprised of Germany’s Deutsche Invest Equity Partners GmbH, Greek-Russian Belterra Investments, and France’s Terminal Link SAS.

Thursday’s approval follows the 2016 privatization of Greece’s largest port of Piraeus through the sale of a majority stake to China’s Cosco group.

Greece’s left-wing government says it’s committed to continuing cost-cutting reforms and privatization after the country’s international bailout ends in August. It will present rescue creditors a development plan in April to be used to gauge post-program surveillance and debt relief.

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