Polish MP wants Spain to repay 400-year-old debt

Posted at 08/04/2012 1:18 AM

WARSAW - As if Spain didn't have enough debt woes, now a Polish legislator is calling in a 235 million zloty (57.4 million euros, $66 million) debt dating back to the 16th century.

At issue is a 430,000 gold ducat loan taken by King Philip II of Spain (1527-98) from Poland's Italian-born Queen Bona Sforza (1494-1557) to finance the war between Spain and France for control of the Kingdom of Naples, most of which has never been paid off.

Marek Poznanski, a 28-year-old member of parliament with the renegade left Palikot Movement parliamentary caucus has launched a request for repayment which Poland's foreign ministry is currently examining.

"I'm well aware my request might seem odd, but I'd like it to make politicians really think about the consequences of lending money to other countries," Poznanski said on his Facebook page about his unusual initiative.

According to him, during the period in question one gold ducat weighed 3.5 grammes. Using current gold prices, the value of the debt would amount to 57.4 million euros, this not including 400 years' worth of interest.

Poland worked for centuries to recover the debt but by the 18th century it had managed to recover just 10 percent of the total sum.

Some historians even believe that Queen Bona, who died in exile in Bari, Italy, was poisoned on King Philip II's orders so he could wiggle his way out of repaying the money.

In archaic Polish, the term "Neapolitan sums" was used to describe bad debts.

Legal experts quoted in the Polish media are sceptical about the possibility of recovering the ancient debt due to the sheer amount of time that had passed.

Poznanski however notes that Spain recently recovered a treasure of 500,000 gold and silver pieces weighing 17 tonnes.

The treasure discovered on a Spanish naval vessel sunk in 1804 by the US-based Odyssey Marine Exploration firm was returned to Spain after a five-year legal battle in which Odyssey claimed "finders, keepers".