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Greece debuts e-foreclosures as EU-IMF auditors return

AFP logoAFP 11/29/2017

Greece on Wednesday debuted electronic foreclosures to address a huge private debt pile burdening banks as its international creditors returned for a scheduled review of the country's economic performance.

Riot police guarded a notary office in central Athens where the first auction was held, as a small group of leftist demonstrators gathered outside.

"Online foreclosures are undemocratic, unconstitutional and non-transparent," Panagiotis Lafazanis, head of a small leftist party opposed to cuts in public spending imposed under Greece's international bailouts, told reporters.

"With a single click on a computer, people will lose their homes," said Lafazanis, a former minister who defected from Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras' party in 2015.

Greek banks are burdened by around 100 billion euros ($119 billion) in non-performing loan exposures -- about half of overall lending -- and the issue has repeatedly been highlighted by the European Central Bank.

Efforts to clear the books in recent months have been disrupted by leftist protests at court houses that forced notaries to repeatedly go on strike, and to then take the process online.

The notaries insist that family homes are protected under a 2010 law that is annually renewed, and that the anti-foreclosure protests have mainly aided wealthy debtors playing the system to their advantage.

"In 2009, there were 58,849 foreclosures and zero reaction. In 2017, just 6,900 foreclosures," Nick Karamouzis, head of the Greek bank association, tweeted last week.

"Without foreclosures, consistent customers lose out and freeloaders (celebrate), undermining the banks, the economy and (Greece's) recovery. Who benefits?" he wondered.

Greece's EU-IMF creditors have long clamoured for a solution to the deadlock, and ECB president Mario Draghi raised the issue again at a eurozone meeting earlier this month.

A team of senior EU-IMF auditors on Tuesday began a scheduled check of Greece's economic reforms under its third bailout.

A key subject of the audit are ongoing efforts to open up the Greek electricity and natural gas markets, which are currently dominated by state-controlled operators.

Another thorny issue is a proposed revision of a strike law, with the creditors hoping it will help reduce industry shutdowns.

There is also debate about maintaining low sales tax for Greek islands accommodating thousands of refugees and migrants.

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