By Jean Christou
THERE was little response on Wednesday to the move by the administration in the north that would allow Turkish Cypriots to register with the Immovable Property Commission (IPC) for land swaps with Greek Cypriots.
The proposal was approved on Tuesday by the ‘cabinet’ in the north and is expected to go to ‘parliament’; shortly, Turkish Cypriot press reported.
It envisages that Turkish Cypriots will be able to exchange their property in the government-controlled areas with a Greek Cypriot who owns property in the north.
Neither the IPC, nor the interior ministry, which manages Turkish Cypriot properties south of the divide, returned requests for comment on Wednesday, nor did minister Socrates Hasikos.
Earlier, state radio quoted Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides as saying the government would look into the issue as it did not as yet have all the facts.
Turkish Cypriot ‘foreign minister’ Ozdil Nami was quoted on Wednesday as saying: “We have extended the scope of applications to the immovable property commission. Up to this day, only Greek Cypriots could apply, but this has changed. Now, Turkish Cypriots will be able to apply to the commission too”.
He said the proposal would create the possibility of transfer of property through the method of exchange or purchase and payment of compensation subject to the permission of the ‘council of ministers’ for natural and legal persons who are the owners of the property title “and who want to exchange these properties with immovable properties in south Cyprus”.
The proposal was first mooted last year by then ‘TRNC prime minister’ Sibel Siber. But a leading Greek Cypriot lawyer said at the time such a move would be “legally and logistically problematic”.
Lawyer Eleni Meleagrou, whose clients have pending cases with the IPC, said that in the case of potential property exchange, a Turkish Cypriot would need to find a Greek Cypriot willing to exchange property, and only in the case of land of comparable value.
And even if that happened, the Cyprus government would not register the Turkish Cypriot property in the Greek Cypriot’s name, which comes under the interior ministry’s Guardian of Turkish Cypriot Properties.
The most well-known incident of property exchange was the case of Mike Tymvios who – with the blessing of the ECHR first in 2003 and again in 2008 – came to a friendly property swap deal by which he exchanged his property near Tymbou in the north with a Turkish Cypriot who had owned land in Larnaca.
At first, the land registry refused to allow the transfer of title deeds for the land on which the government had subsequently built a school and some refugee housing. It was not until 2012 that the government eventually agreed to approve the transfer and then purchase the land from Tymvios. At the time, then Attorney-general Petros Clerides stressed the move was a “special” one-off case.
According to the IPC website’s latest update on April 22, some 5,856 applications from Greek Cypriots have been filed, with 504 concluded through “friendly settlements” and 12 through formal hearing.
The commission has paid GBP 155,012,381 in total to the applicants as compensation and has ruled for exchange and compensation in two cases, for restitution in one case and for restitution and compensation in five cases. In one case it has delivered a decision for restitution after the settlement of the Cyprus issue, and in one case it has ruled for partial restitution.