Belgian consulate faces eviction if it doesn't pay up NIS 14m. for disputed villa

Belgian consulate faces

belgian embassy 248.88 (photo credit: )
belgian embassy 248.88
(photo credit: )
Following a court ruling this week that Belgium must pay nearly NIS 14 million in back rent to the owners of its Jerusalem consulate building, representatives of the latter warned on Thursday that if a solution weren't reached, steps would be taken to evict the occupants. The year-long trial between the Belgian government and the Sofrim Fund, which owns the villa housing the consulate, ended Monday with the ruling from the Jerusalem District Court. Sofrim had sued for seven years of unpaid rent - nearly NIS 125,000 a month - last January, amounting to NIS 14m. after this year's rent and interest. Belgium had paid rent to Constantine Salameh - the building's original owner - until 1983, when Salameh sold the property to the State of Israel. However, Belgium has refused to recognize the new owners, and neither Israel nor Sofrim has seen a cent. Attorney Moshe Shiloni, who, along with attorney Eli Mordechai, represented Sofrim at the trial, said Thursday that Israeli officials had sent letters to the consulate over the years inquiring as to why the rent was not being paid, but had never received a response. "We also sent them a few letters ourselves, and they never bothered to answer us, either," Shiloni said. "[The Belgians] have been sitting there for almost 30 years, without paying rent to anybody. And if they think the building belongs to Salameh, then pay rent to Salameh. You have to pay somebody." Sofrim sued only for the building itself, not for the entire property, which is widely thought of as one of the capital's most exquisite. "The property is worth millions," Shiloni said. "And we aren't even asking for money covering the different fields around the building. But they haven't paid anything." After the court's decision, Shiloni offered to negotiate directly with the consulate. "We sent a letter saying, 'Here's the decision from the court, now let's talk,'" Shiloni said. "But we haven't heard from them directly. They want the Foreign Ministry to mediate, but we don't want the Foreign Ministry to be a middleman. If they want to negotiate, they have to talk directly with us." Bart Ouvry, a spokesman for the Belgian Foreign Ministry, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that a solution would be found, though he did not specify how Belgium was currently working to resolve the issue. "We have taken note of the decision," Ouvry said. "We're studying it. We're working very actively to find a solution to this problem that will make both sides happy." But Shiloni said that if no progress were made, Sofrim would take steps to evacuate the building. "If they pay all the rent they owe us, they can stay there forever," Shiloni said. "But if they don't, then at some point we'll have to start a new trial to get them evicted." Shiloni said he did not yet know the immediate time frame of such decisions. The trial was conducted without the participation of the Belgians. Although the Post had reported earlier on potential tensions developing between Belgium and Israel as a result of the trial, Ouvry said that the countries' relationship would remain strong, regardless of the outcome of the dispute. "This should not be a matter which harms the diplomatic relations between the two countries," he said.