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Cyprus

Former official was sceptical about land deal

Neoclis Silikiotis

By Elias Hazou

THE FORMER director of the department of Turkish Cypriot properties was opposed to the 2007 transfer of a plot of land in Dromolaxia to a Greek Cypriot business.

Theodoros Theodorou, who served at the department from 2002 to 2012, told an investigative panel yesterday he had reservations about the transaction from the outset.

The land in Dromolaxia, Larnaca, was sold to the Greek Cypriot company Wadnic Trading Ltd. which allegedly changed the terms of use, upgraded the coefficients, built on it and sold it on to the CyTA pension fund in 2011, at several times the price they bought it from the Turkish Cypriot original owner.

Allegations have since been made of millions given in bribes to unions, a political party, an MP and a leading CyTA official.

Theodorou said he was at the time sceptical of whether the Turkish Cypriot owner of the land, Mustafa Mehmet Mustafa, resided permanently in the south – a requirement for transferring his property.

It has already transpired that the secret service had produced two opposing reports on whether the Turkish Cypriot had resided in the government-controlled areas for six months prior to selling the land.

Mustafa, in his 70s, claimed to be working as a confectioner in Deryneia – a contention which Theodorou said he seriously doubted.

Theodorou had two chief reasons to be wary: Mustafa’s age made it implausible that he was operating a business. Also, from his own experience with similar applications, he knew that many Turkish Cypriots, while permanently residing in the north, falsely declared that they were living in rentals in the government-controlled areas.

The former official said he voiced his disagreement with the transaction (the initial contract selling the plot to Wadnic Trading Ltd was drafted in 2007) during a meeting at the interior ministry in May 2008. At that meeting was present then-interior minister Neoclis Sylikiotis, among others.

Theodorou said he was unable to block the transaction because by that time his powers of approving applications for Turkish Cypriot land transfers had been delegated to a newly-created section within his department. Previously, while he still had those powers, the official said, he would reject over 90 per cent of applications.

The panel heard also that applications by Turkish Cypriots exploded after the opening of the checkpoints in 2003.

Under a procedure established by a Cabinet decision of 2004, all applications by Turkish Cypriots were filed to the land registry, reviewed by the department of Turkish Cypriot properties, and then sent on with a recommendation for approval or rejection to the Guardian of Turkish Cypriot properties – the interior minister.

The ongoing inquiry was originally established to probe the land purchase by the CyTA pension fund. But its scope encompasses the overall handling of Turkish Cypriot properties in the south.

Also yesterday, the panel heard from land registry officers that the two contracting parties – Mustafa and Wadnic Trading Ltd – agreed on a price of €1,273,770 for the land in question, whereas the land registry – for the purposes of calculating the transfer fees – placed the value at €2,970,000.

For Vasos Vassiliou, a senior land registry officer, the discrepancy between the sales price and the estimated going market value did not raise a red flag because, as he told the panel, the transaction as well as the information were known to the Cabinet and he had no reason to question it.

During the course of yesterday’s Q&A, panel chairman Eleonora Nicolaidou grew increasingly frustrated with the responses provided by the land registry officials.

In certain cases the officials summoned were unable to furnish complete data on key issues, such as the estimated value of the land before and after the transaction.

The panel decided to postpone this line of questioning, instructing the land registry department to send before it all employees with knowledge of the case when it next follows up.

“If bringing half of the department is what it takes, so be it,” Nicolaidou said.

Asked about the scandal yesterday CyTA chairman Stathis Kittis refused to respond to questions on the matter, saying that he is waiting to be called to committee, after which he will hold a press conference giving full account of investments of pension fund.

“This fund, and today’s managers, have nothing to fear… nothing to be ashamed of. Everything has been done based on professional evaluations by experts… I’d like to say one thing only, if the nearly €300m invested by this board were put in the banks, you know what would happen today… a big zero. I have nothing else to say to those who criticise us. Everything is open and transparent but we will speak in due course.”

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