Acquisition and revocation of Greek citizenship
Firstly, filing forged documents with the authorities to obtain Greek citizenship (the forged nature of the document is confirmed by the foreign authority which issued it or took account of it) could lead to the decision granting citizenship being withdrawn only in the case where the decision was based on information contained in that document. If that information was not determinative in granting citizenship, the forgery will not lead to withdrawal.
In general terms, the applicant’s place of birth is not determinative in acquiring citizenship, as made clear by the following reference to how Greek citizenship can be acquired.
The following are the main options for a foreign adult (e.g. Russian citizen) to acquire Greek citizenship:
a) Honorary naturalisation (by Presidential Decree), where the person offered outstanding service to Greece or may promote one of the country’s vital interests (intended for athletes, individuals who stand out in critical circumstances, artists, or various other cases).
b) Naturalisation, provided that the foreigner has already lived in Greece for a number of years (normally at least 7 years), speaks very good Greek and is fully integrated into Greek society (this requires submitting documents proving that he has lived in Greece for many years, and examination by a special committee of his Greek, knowledge of history, etc.).
c) By identifying or recognising Greek citizenship based on an ancestor (parent or grandparent or more distant ancestor):
either (1) based on the Treaty of Lausanne of 1923 (a peace treaty which set the boundaries of Turkey) or the Ankara Convention of 1930 (an agreement between Greece and Turkey). Under those Treaties, there are populations deemed to have Greek citizenship (irrespective of the country they reside in). So if an ancestor (grandparent or even more distant ancestor) can be proven (on the basis of some document) to have had Greek citizenship in accordance with those Treaties, and because under Greek law the child of a Greek father or mother is Greek, then his children are automatically accorded Greek citizenship and this also applies to the next generation. That is to say, if someone can prove (on the basis of any document) that his grandfather or grandmother was a Greek national under those Treaties and submits certificates proving related familial relationship, his direct ancestor (father or mother) is registered in a Greek municipality, and then he himself acquires Greek citizenship,
or (2) if an ancestor had Greek citizenship (for example, was entered in Greek municipal rolls, or had a Greek passport or only had a Greek passport from a Greek consulate, etc.). In that case, the foreign national must submit the document proving Greek citizenship for his direct ancestor or more distant ancestor and the documents proving he is related to them.
d) By naturalisation as an ethnic Greek who is a citizen of the former USSR (Law 2790/2000 or Articles 15 & 35 of Law 3284/2004)
In Greek law, an ethnic Greek is a foreign national (person who does not have Greek citizenship) associated with the country via Greek ethnicity, usually via common language and religion, common traditions and common Greek ethnic consciousness. (Normally someone with distant Greek roots, who has some relationship with Greek culture, either in Greece or as it developed in the place he/she lived, is considered to be an ethnic Greek).
Because several populations of Greek descent of different origins lived in the countries of the former USSR for various historical reasons, such as the so-called Pontian Greek minority among others, and because after 1990 many of them began to come to Greece, the country in its efforts to facilitate their entry and integrate them established a special legal framework (Law 2790/2000) containing favourable provisions. In 2004, the conferral of citizenship on ethnic Greeks who were citizens of the former USSR was included in Law 3284/2004 (the Greek Citizenship Code), which has similar provisions.
In that case, the foreign national must (a) submit to the Greek authorities (in Greece or the relevant Greek consulate at his place of residence) one or more documents proving that he is an ethnic Greek, which is to say documents relating not necessarily to him but to one of his parents or grandparents, or great-grandparents, etc., such as some internal passport which refers to Greek ethnicity or some certificate of ethnicity or other document from the Soviet authorities relating to ethnicity, etc. as well as other documents proving he is related to that person, and (b) appear before a committee which will pose questions to determine whether and to what extent he speaks Greek or the Pontian dialect, etc. and whether he has knowledge of Greek history and culture, knowledge of his ancestors’ historical past, and other such like.
To obtain Greek citizenship, he must prove that he is an ethnic Greek by descent and that he has Greek ethnic consciousness (has some relationship with Greek culture either in Greece or as it developed in the place where he lived). The documents and the interview are both taken into account when making a
Examples (as regards the categories C and D as described above),
If the foreign adult falls within case C, then in both possibilities of that case, he must have submitted something forged relating to either the Greek citizenship of an ancestor or demonstrating that the person applying for Greek citizenship was related to them.
If the foreign adult falls within case D, then his citizenship could be stripped if the document on which the decision was BASED, namely the finding that the foreign national was an ethnic Greek, with Greek ethnic consciousness, was forged.
Revocation procedure – timing
Firstly, it should be pointed out that under Greek law, there is no procedure whereby a third party can inform the authorities that the documents submitted are forged. If the forgery comes to the authorities’ knowledge and it is proven by a foreign authority, then the public administration, acting of its own accord, will withdraw citizenship (using the procedure for revocation of individual administrative decisions). There is no specific (maximum) timeframe for doing so; that is to say, it could even be done 15 years after the decision being revoked was taken. Moreover, there are no time restrictions on how long the procedure may last until the revocation decision is made. The person concerned is entitled to seek recourse to the administrative courts against the decision revoking citizenship.
To be more specific:
Revocation means partial or total suspension of the validity of the administrative decision, effective for the future or retroactively, by issuing a more recent decision. Revocation is done for reasons relating to the revoked decision. The revocation of individual administrative decisions, such as the individual administrative decision confirming Greek citizenship, is based on the provisions of Article 21 of the Hellenic Code of Administrative Procedure. That article states that, “the body responsible for revoking an individual administrative decision is the body which issued it or which is competent for issuing it”, whereas, “to revoke it, it is not necessary to comply with the procedure specified for issuing the decision, unless a lawful or unlawful decision is being revoked, having weighed up the facts”.
Generally speaking, two constitutional principles govern the revocation of individual administrative decisions: a) protecting the citizen’s legitimate expectations (which requires a decision favourable for the bona fides citizen to be retained in effect) and b) the principle of legality, which requires the absence of any illegal administrative decisions in the legal order (which is to say that such decisions should be revoked). At the same time, we should stress that the principle of the supremacy of the public interest plays a vital function in the exercise of the public administration’s discretion when it comes to revoking its decisions, which can sometimes require the decision to be retained in effect, and in other cases that it be revoked. The task of weighing up those principles is initially performed by the public administration and then by the courts.
Moreover, individual administrative decisions are divided into (a) unlawful – favourable and unfavourable – ones, and (b) lawful – favourable and unfavourable – ones. The Sole Article of Emergency Law 261/1968 sets out the framework for revoking unlawful individual administrative decisions (category a). Administrative decisions are unlawful if the way in which they were issued or their content violates rules of law or they have been issued following a mistake on the facts (namely after the public officer wrongly perceived that the factual conditions required in law for the decision to be issued were met).
According to Emergency Law 261/1968 and the principle of legality, unlawful individual administrative decisions can be freely revoked by the public administration (Council of State Judgment No 4026/2008) irrespective of whether rights for citizens derive from those decisions (in which case they are favourable administrative decisions), provided this is done within a reasonable time period after the decision was issued, and therefore from the time the citizens acquired their rights. More specifically, Emergency Law 261/1968 states that: “Individual administrative decisions issued in violation of the law shall be revoked by the public administration freely and without any consequences for the state, within a reasonable time of them being issued”. Referring to a reasonable revocation period, the second sub-paragraph states that: “Without prejudice to specific provisions of the relevant legislation which provide otherwise, a period of less than 5 years at least from the issuing of the said revocable decisions, may not under any circumstances be deemed unreasonable for the purpose of revocation, irrespective of acquisition of any rights by third parties thereunder”.
According to Emergency Law 261/1968 (second sub-paragraph) and the case law of the Greek courts, the rule which applies when revoking unlawful administrative decisions allows them to be revoked within a reasonable time period which is set at 5 years. So the courts have ruled that the public administration is not prevented from revoking an unlawful decision within 5 years of it being issued, by the citizen in whose favour that decision was issued having acted in good faith, and by the need to safeguard his expectations, or on the grounds that the harm to him from revocation is disproportionately greater than the benefit to the public interest, nor is it obliged to weigh up those points before deciding whether or not to revoke the decision (Council of State Judgment Nos 2814/2011 and 1501/2008). A condition for applying this time constraint is that the citizen in whose favour the decision was issued has not “procured” the issuing of the decision by a public officer using fraudulent means. And vice versa: the time constraint on the revocability of unlawful favourable decisions does not apply when the public officer was induced to issue the decision due to the fraudulent acts of the citizen who benefits from it. Moreover, the time constraints on the revocability of individual administrative decisions ceases to apply when there are public interest considerations which require the decision to be revoked. For example, a decision granting citizenship relates to an issue of particular importance for the public interest. Lastly, it should be noted that the 5-year time constraint is the minimum and not maximum reasonable time for revoking unlawful favourable administrative decisions.
Case study: Greek court judgments which rejected applications to annul decisions revoking Greek citizenship decisions
- Council of State Judgment No 2616/2012: It is not permitted to revoke an administrative decision after a reasonable time has elapsed unless there are public interest considerations or fraudulent acts by the citizen. In this case, the contested decision revoked a decision on a matter of utmost importance for the public interest, such as citizenship, whose lawful acquisition has serious effects on the State and the operations of government, given that it determines the composition of the populace as an element of the State, and constitutes the electorate. The public administration revoked the decision in time once it learned that the information relating to the applicant’s identity and personal status, which they had submitted as proof of their capacity as “expatriate ethnic Greeks” and which is critical for a finding that they are Greek citizens, were forged. The 15-year period which intervened until the contested revocation decision was issued did not exceed a reasonable period because the applicants submitted forged documents to prove their Greek citizenship, which is a matter of public interest.
- Athens Administrative Court of Appeal Judgment No 2571/2013: The competent ecclesiastical authority found that the religious marriage certificates for the grandfather and father of the applicants, which had been submitted in the citizenship application, were not genuine. The finding of a relationship via the paternal line and Greek origin via the father depend on a valid marriage having taken place. Absent that condition, revocation within a reasonable time of the decision ascertaining Greek citizenship, which was issued without that condition being duly proven, is objectively justified without needing to ascertain that there were public interest considerations or that the party concerned was at fault. Besides, under the general principles for revocation of administrative decisions, individual administrative decisions may be revoked within a reasonable time, which is determined based on the specific circumstances of each case and which in all events – absent any express provisions to the contrary – cannot be less than 5 years from issuing of the decision being revoked, in accordance with the Sole Article of Emergency Law 261/1968. In this case, there is no need to cite public interest considerations nor is the public administration obliged to weigh up the existence of good faith on the part of the citizen for whom the decision was issued, the need to protect his legitimate expectations or the fact that the harm to him from revocation is disproportionately greater than the benefit to the public interest.
- Athens Administrative Court of Appeal Judgment No 2517/2013: The contested decision revoked a decision on a particularly important matter for the public interest, such as citizenship, which relates to the make-up of the electorate and the exercise of the rights to elect and be elected. The contested revocation was based on the public administration’s finding that the birth certificates were forged (both in relation to the authority which issued them and the ethnic origins of the parents). These documents had been submitted along with the applicants’ application to prove their capacity as expatriate ethnic Greeks, which under Article 7 of Law 2130/1993 is critical for determining their Greek citizenship. The fact that the documents were forged meant that the capacity cited by the applicants for the purpose of them being recognised as Greek citizens (namely their capacity as ethnic Greeks) had not been proven in any way. Someone who acquired the legal ability to rely on the belief in the stability and certainty of administrative situations within the State’s legal order in such a way cannot make reliance on that belief. Indeed, the revocation decision cited documents from the Hellenic Police HQ (Security and Public Order Division / Aliens Directorate – Ethnic Greeks Citizenship Department 2) and the note from the International Organisations / Interpol Department 4 attached to it (Hellenic Police HQ / Security and Public Order Division / International Police Cooperation Directorate).
- Athens Administrative Court of Appeal Judgment No 840/2015: The contested decision to revoke the prefectural decision which had recognised the applicant as a Greek citizen was lawful, since the prefectural decision was based on forged documents. This was based on the finding that the proof of ethnic Greek status was forged, a point confirmed by the Greek Embassy in Moscow, as the body purported to have issued the consular proof of ethnic Greek status which the applicant had used to obtain the decision confirming her citizenship. Where it is found that even one of the supporting documents submitted is forged or has been tampered with, irrespective of whether or not the person concerned is at fault, the public administration is entitled to reject the request on the grounds that expatriate ethnic Greek status, which is critical, was not proven. Where the decision confirming citizenship has already been issued, the public administration is entitled to return to the matter and, relying on the objective fact of forgery or tampering with one or more supporting documents, to revoke the decision on those grounds.
- Council of State Judgment No 58/2011: Ethnic Greeks from the former USSR and revocation of the decision confirming their Greek citizenship because that decision was based on supporting documents that had been tampered with. The supporting documents which are critical in determining the identity and ethnic origin of the applicants, on the basis of which the special consular proof of expatriate ethnic Greek status certificates and the prefectural decision confirming their Greek citizenship were issued, had been tampered with, according to the findings of the Greek Consulate in Novorossiysk, which was responsible for checking the authenticity of the certificates submitted and granting the special proof of status. It was found that the existence of public interest considerations or fault on the part of the person concerned was not required when he lacked the capacity of “expatriate ethnic Greek”. The person concerned did not need to be summoned in advance to a hearing, given that the issuing of the revocation decision was not based on the subjective conduct of the applicants, but on objective facts (relating to the validity of the supporting documents).
- Council of State Judgment No 2566/2002: An administrative decision can be revoked within a reasonable time, namely a period of less than 5 years. However, it is not prohibited to revoke a decision even after 5 years, where the courts will determine whether the reasonable period has been exceeded. A period of 7 years is considered a reasonable time for revoking a decision on citizenship when forged documents (namely proof of status as expatriate ethnic Greeks) were used. In this case, the contested revocation decision was issued on the grounds that, following an investigation, it was found that the proof of status as expatriate ethnic Greeks had not been issued by the competent consular authority.
- Athens Administrative Court of Appeal Judgment No 196/2015: Revocation of decisions confirming citizenship for the applicant’s spouse, her sons and herself. The head of the Citizenship Directorate of the Region rightly revoked citizenship which had been lawfully based on the objective fact that the decision confirming the Greek citizenship of the applicant’s husband was unlawful. The public administration was not obliged to give the applicant a prior hearing, since the revocation of the decision confirming citizenship was based on objective facts and not on her subjective behaviour. The period which intervened between confirmation of the applicant’s Greek citizenship (1994) and the revocation decision being issued (2009) was not considered to exceed the reasonable period during which revocation is possible.
- Council of State Judgment No 1552/2011: The supporting documents which are critical in determining the identity and ethnic origin of the applicants, on the basis of which the special consular proof of expatriate ethnic Greek status certificates and the prefectural decision confirming their Greek citizen were issued, had been tampered with, according to the findings of the Greek Consulate in Novorossiysk which was responsible for checking the authenticity of the certificates submitted and granting the special proof of status. Consequently, it was not proven that at the time the prefectural decision was issued, the applicants held the capacity of expatriate ethnic Greeks, which is critical for issuing the decision under Article 7 of Law 2130/1993, and consequently the contested revocation decision which was based on the finding that they did not hold such capacity is lawfully and adequately reasoned. To revoke the decision, it is not necessary to cite public interest considerations nor to find that the applicants were at fault or behaved reprehensibly when the revoked decision was being obtained. Moreover, defects in the supporting documents submitted were found after they were re-examined and an investigation was carried out by the Consulate General in Novorossiysk.
- Athens Administrative Court of Appeal Judgment No 2527/2013: Issuing of a decision confirming the Greek citizenship of expatriate ethnic Greeks. Withdrawal of citizenship, since the proof of status as expatriate ethnic Greeks from the consulate, which the applicant had used in order to obtain the citizenship decision, was found to be forged. To revoke the decision, it is not necessary to find that the applicants were at fault or behaved reprehensibly when the revoked decision was being obtained. As a result of that lawful revocation, the second applicant (the applicant’s daughter) had also lawfully been stripped of citizenship. That revocation was lawful after around 14 years and 3 months from the issuing of the citizenship decision, since there were public interest considerations relating directly to the failure to prove Greek citizenship as a result of the forgery identified, and so it was permissible to revoke the decision that had confirmed citizenship, irrespective of the time that had elapsed.