U.S Department of State: property restitution in Romania is a very slow process

The restitution process continued to be very slow during the year, and the large majority of restitution cases remained unresolved, U.S Department of State said in its Human Rights report on Romania.

The law allows for property restitution and establishes fines for officials who hinder the process. The law provides for a Property Fund of approximately 14 billion lei ($4.8 billion) to compensate owners of properties that cannot be returned in kind. Because of this delay, the Fund was not yet listed on the stock exchange, meaning shares were not traded on the stock exchange, but on the gray market at artificially low prices.

A government ordinance provides for cash payments in lieu of restitution of up to about 500,000 lei ($173,000), paid over a two-year period. Claims in excess of this amount are to be paid with shares in the Property Fund.

Former owners' organizations continued to assert that inertia hindered property restitution at the local level. In some cases local government officials continued to delay or refuse to provide necessary documents to former owners filing claims. They also refused to return properties in which county or municipal governments had an interest.

The ECHR ruled in favor of the former owners in a large number of restitution cases, which represented the majority of applications to the ECHR from the country, U.S Department of State said.

In April the Council of Europe released a report which noted that the country does not observe the three-month deadline for paying compensation ordered by the ECHR. According to the report, in 2008 only 5 percent of ECHR-ordered compensation was paid within the three-month time period provided in the court's final judgments.

Also in the report, the department states that the numerous disputes over many churches that the Orthodox Church did not return to the Greek Catholic Church despite court orders to do so.

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