The reprivatization scandal in Warsaw is entering into a new phase: advocates and town hall officials are being arrested. For over 20 years the Warsaw authorities used to return properties and pay compensation to those who claimed that they lost their homes in Warsaw after WWII. Now it turns out that majority of houses were returned not to the rightful heirs of prewar owners but to the hands of 'house hunters' who were not eligible for any compensation. It appears that masses of documents were forged and filed with courts to legalize the theft. There are grounds to believe that there has been a gang of criminals in Warsaw which comprised the politicians, advocates, town hall officials and developers. The prosecutor's office has started investigations in relation to over 170 addresses in Warsaw because there is evidence that these buildings were fraudulently transferred to wrong people. Commentators say that these 170 addresses are just a tip of an iceberg. Besides, the problem of forging the documents and transferring the buildings to wrong people is not confined to Warsaw. Other towns, just to mention Kraków, Łódź, Poznań and Lublin, are uncovering their own reprivatization scandals. All of that needs to be sorted out.
It is good that the authorities decided to fight the reprivatization gangs in Warsaw. The time was high. It is even better that the investigation is going forward dynamically. The public needs to know what has happened and who is guilty. What is bad however, is that the reprivatization scandal strikes a severe blow against the whole idea of reprivatization and the basic confidence that this process requires. Currently, reprivatization equals scandal and nothing can change this in the nearby future. All procedures probably will be suspended and no one will dare to issue any decision until the situation is clarified.
What to do?
First, never be discouraged. Restitution process will be now slow and there will be many obstacles but one needs to stand up for what’s right. Now it is more important than ever for the rightful owners to apply for the return of their lost properties. It is a must. Inaction creates ideal situation for the criminals to continue their skullduggery. If the rightful heirs do nothing about pursuing their claims for the lost properties, the gangs feel encouraged because they think that nobody survived. They can then easily falsify the key documents (including the last will) and claim the property back. Any action taken by the family or the rightful heirs typically discourages the criminals. Therefore, it is important to start doing something. Filing the motion for the return of properties (together with the documents confirming the succession) is a good step. The window of opportunity will not last long – the deadline is 17 March 2017.
Second, collect all information about your family assets and check what is available on public records in Poland. Even if your property had been already given to the gang, there is a chance to fight it back. Soon a special commission will start functioning and there is a hope that the damage could be somehow redressed. It will not be easy but there is a chance. If the gang sold a house to a bona fide buyer, such a transfer cannot be 'undone’. All acquisitions made in good faith by third parties should be protected by law.
Third, collect all information about your family members (death certificates, birth certificates, last wills etc.) for inheritance purposes. According to Polish law, a rightful heir must obtain a court confirmation on the Polish inheritance (if the estate includes a real property). The return of a property can only be awarded to a person who is indicated in the inheritance decision.
The scandal is a shock to everybody in Warsaw. We hope that really every cloud has a silver lining and that this scandal may lead to better solutions.
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