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Strange alliances in land dispute

Kalo Chorio Larnaca

By George Christou

A 3,500-DONUM piece of land in the Larnaca district is the centre of a major ownership dispute, which has pitted Turks against Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots against their government while producing a bizarre alliance between Greek Cypriots and Turkish nationals.

The value of the land, close to the Kalo Chorio village, was estimated at €350 million by press reports. Even if it is grossly overvalued, it provides an explanation of why different parties have been fighting for ownership. Reports suggested that the group of businessmen and politicians trying to secure the land on the cheap from the supposed Turkish owners want to use it for a Disneyland-style theme park and casino.

There is a dispute over the ownership of the land, which is a trust. A group of Turkish nationals, who have been claiming they were the benefactors of the trust and had secured all the necessary documentation from Turkish courts to prove it, have been in contact with a group a Greek Cypriot businessmen and politicians who were interested in buying the land.

By dealing directly with Turks, the Greek Cypriots hoped to get round the post-invasion law that placed the ownership of all Turkish Cypriot properties and real estate under the guardianship of the interior minister, who cannot sell it. The guardian has the power to rent Turkish Cypriot properties that were abandoned in 1974 but not sell them.

But if the 3,500 donums belonged to Turks, the guardian would have no authority to block the deal and the transaction could go ahead. The Greek Cypriots have used the services of a big law firm to argue their case, while also using deputies from different parties to pressure the government into giving its consent.

However, original plans to buy the land have been abandoned, presumably because the businessmen could not come up with the funds, even with a reported pricetag of €35 million, just 10 per cent of its estimated value. Instead the two parties have now agreed the land will be leased for 99 years for €100,000 per year, but are still waiting for the approval of Lands and Surveys Department, which is under the jurisdiction of the interior ministry.

The profit potential of 3,500 donums of land that would cost a paltry annual rent of €100,000 for 99 years – a grand total of just under €10 million – is huge. And with politicians involved in the deal, it is certain that the leaseholders would secure all the relaxations and permits necessary to develop the land and secure a very big return on a tiny investment.

One Larnaca deputy who had been alerted to the land deal by the Larnaca Lands and Surveys Department has written to the Auditor-General, Odysseas Michaelides, urging him to investigate what he described as potentially one of the biggest scandals ever. But Michaelides, who frequently issues statements about countless irregularities, has avoided saying anything about the matter.

However, completing the transaction will not be plain sailing. The Kalo Chorio land falls under the ownership of the Islamic religious foundation, Evkaf Cyprus. Evkaf, according to the Evkaf office’s website, are “properties appropriated for, or donated by, a document called vakfieh, to charitable uses and the service of God.”

The web-site adds: “Nobody has the right to sell property designated as vakf. Evkaf properties can be rented for 10 years, but a longer period requires the approval of parliament.”

To complicate matters even further Evkaf properties are divided into two categories. Mulhakak are properties that have been donated, but the administration of the property remains under the control of the donor until the time where there is no family descendent. The property then becomes a Mazbuta property and is placed directly under the control of the Evkaf office, the statutory body that administers Evkaf.

Interestingly, the 1960 Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus “recognised and re-confirmed the legal rights of evkaf, accepting the importance of the institution of evkaf to the Turkish community, its sanctity, and the need for the preservation and protection of its properties under the laws and regulations of the Turkish Cypriot Communal Chamber.”

A Turkish woman called Suzan Dikraz had contacted the office of Evkaf Cyprus saying that she was the benefactor of the Bekir Pasa vakf (trust) and wanted to sell her Mulhakak land in Kalo Chorio. She was told that she needed to put her request in writing and Evkaf Cyprus would examine her request and respond in due course.

“We never heard from her again,” said the general director of Evkaf Cyprus, Dr Ibrahim Benter. If she had sent a request, it would have been rejected, as benefactors of Mulhakak land cannot sell property even if they remain administrators, but she would have had the right to appeal against the decision in a court. It is known, however, that Dikraz has visited the Larnaca Lands and Surveys Department, accompanied by the Greek Cypriot associates in an effort to conclude the deal.

It was possible that Dikraz obtained all the necessary documentation of ownership from Evkaf Turkey, but, according to Dr Benter, she would still require the approval to sell or lease the land of Evkaf Cyprus which is totally independent of the Turkish organisation. “She never applied to our office and what Evkaf Turkey decides does not apply to Cyprus.”

Evkaf Cyprus has been kept completely out of the loop. It has not been formally informed about the plans to lease the 3,500 donums nor had its approval, which is necessary by Cyprus law, been sought. The Turkish benefactors of the Bekir Pasa trust obviously avoided applying to Evkaf Cyprus because they feared it would have blocked the Kalo Chorio deal.

There is no contact between Evkaf Cyprus and the interior ministry and although both are opposed to the deal there is no possibility of working together to block it. But there is an element of truth in the remark by an interior ministry official that the “ministry, in a way, is protecting the interests of Evkaf.”

Attorney-general Costas Clerides has also become involved after President Anastasiades, who has been lobbied by the interested politicians, asked for his opinion. One press report said Clerides had advised that the land was Turkish Cypriot and therefore under the jurisdiction of the guardian – the minister of interior. In short it could not be leased.

However, Clerides issued a second opinion subsequently in which he contradicted the first. In the second opinion, made because he obtained additional information, he no longer held the view that the land was of Turkish Cypriot ownership, thus giving the green light for the transaction, which if completed could qualify, according to the Larnaca deputy as the biggest scandal ever.

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Source: Cyprus News Agency


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