YESTERDAY’S lead story in Phileleftheros, under the headline, ‘A plot for the president,’ reported that the wife of President Anastasiades “buys a plot of land, in instalments, from the Archbishop.” The plot, the paper reported, was 1,739 square metres, it was situated in “one of the most expensive areas of Limassol” and, according to the sales contract, was bought for €500,000, “the bigger part of which would be paid in 75, interest-free monthly instalments.”
This was not the only information, the paper provided its readers, whom it informed that there had been a down-payment of €40,000 on the signing of the contract, the date the next payment was due and the location of the plot – apparently it was adjacent to the home of the president. Was this a scoop worthy of being a lead story?
The president’s wife was perfectly entitled to buy a plot of land and it was hardly a surprise that the owner was the Archbishopric, given its extensive land holdings all over the island. She was neither the first nor would she be the last person to buy land from the Church. That she bought the plot next to her home showed that she was not speculating but merely paying to ensure she did not have a next-door neighbour, something many people, who could afford it would do.
However the report was at pains to imply that this was shady transaction. Twice it emphasised that the instalments would be “interest-free,” which is standard practice, when a transaction is not financed by a bank. It also told its readers that the plot was located in the “aristocratic area of Mesovounia” – that we have “aristocratic areas” in Cyprus is more newsworthy than the land purchase – because the aim was to show that Mrs Anastasiades had paid a price well below the market value.
The paper claimed, citing “learned real estate surveyors” that it did not name, the “value of the specific plot is in the region of €870,000.” We were not informed how many buyers there were prepared to pay this amount for the specific plot, but that is another story. For Mrs Anastasiades the plot was worth €500,000 and the cash-strapped Archbishopric was willing to sell it at this price, so that is its value. “Learned real estate surveyors,” who have a personal interest in inflating land prices, did not inform the paper how many plots, in the “aristocratic area of Mesovounia” had sold for €870,000 in the last year.
The president, his wife and the Archbishop all felt obliged to issue statements responding to Phileleftheros’ scandal-mongering. It was a mistake as they had done nothing irregular or illegal.