EU court backs return of northern Cyprus property

29th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

The European Court of Justice supported the claim of a Greek Cypriot man to the ownership of land on which a British couple built a holiday home, after he was forced to leave it when Turkish troops invaded northern Cyprus in 1974.

Luxembourg -- A top European court on Tuesday backed the right of Greek Cypriots to reclaim property they abandoned in the north of the island when it was divided, and which was then sold to foreigners.

The European Court of Justice supported the claim of a Greek Cypriot man to the ownership of land on which a British couple built a holiday home, after he was forced to leave it when Turkish troops invaded northern Cyprus in 1974.

The long-awaited and complex ruling is likely to strengthen any legal claims Greek Cypriots might want to assert over their former properties, and a lawyer warned foreigners with suspect land there to seek legal advice.

After the Turkish military occupation of the north, some 170,000 Greek Cypriots fled south, abandoning their properties.

Much of the abandoned properties were distributed among Turkish Cypriots who had left behind assets in the south and many of whom subsequently sold them on to foreigners, mainly Britons.

The EU decision revolves around a court case in Nicosia dating from 2005.

In it, British couple Linda and David Orams were ordered to demolish a villa, built on land popular with foreign pensioners which they had bought from Turkish Cypriots, and to pay compensation.

The land's original owner, Greek Cypriot Meletis Apostolides, took the case to a British appeals court so that the order -- which recognised his ownership of the land -- would be enforced.

The British court sent the case to the EU tribunal in Luxembourg for a ruling on the complicated issue of whether the decision by the court in Nicosia is applicable in the Turkish north.

"The recognition and enforcement of the judgements of the Cypriot court cannot be refused in the United Kingdom," the EU court said on Tuesday.

The so-called Turkish Cypriot statelet in northern Cyprus is recognised by Turkey but not the rest of the international community.

The court said: "The fact that the land concerned is situated in an area over which the government does not exercise effective control ... does not preclude the recognition and enforcement of those judgements in another member state. The fact that Mr. Apostolides might encounter difficulties in having the judgements enforced cannot deprive them of their enforceability.”

The Orams, from Hove, East Sussex, argued the property was bought in good faith but they could now face enforcement action through the British courts, as Cyprus is a fellow member of the European Union.

Indeed, technically speaking, the entire island joined the EU in 2004 but the application of EU legislation has been suspended in the north.

Apostolides's lawyer told AFP that it was time for foreigners with property in the north to start worrying.

"I think people who got property in the occupied north which didn't belong to those who gave it to them should seek solid legal independent advice and definitely not advice coming from the north," Constantis Candounas said. "It opens the way for the judgement of the Cyprus court to be enforced in the United Kingdom. It means that eventually my client will have a means to enforce the decision."

He conceded that the EU ruling is "not the end of the road but it has shown more or less which way it's going as the decision is 100 percent in favour of Mr Apostolides."

An estimated 4,000 Britons live on a permanent basis in the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, and they too could face a barrage of lawsuits by Greek Cypriot owners.

Cyprus has been divided along ethnic lines since 1974 when Turkey seized its northern third in response to an Athens-engineered Greek Cypriot coup aimed at union with Greece.

After a ceasefire, some 45,000 Turkish Cypriots moved out of the south and almost all the remaining Greek Cypriots still in the north crossed in the opposite direction under an agreed transfer of populations.

Amelie Bottollier-Depois/AFP/Expatica

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