By Bejay Browne
THE ARREST of prominent Paphos developer, and four other suspects over an alleged land scandal has sent shockwaves through the community of Kouklia where the businessman resides.
Residents and officials are concerned about the knock-on effect the recent arrests of Aristo Developers’ CEO Theodoros Aristodemou, his wife Roulla and three other suspects could have on the entire community as well as current and future investments in the area.
The five were arrested in connection with a case of suspected forgery of architectural plans and conspiracy to defraud the state in a planned development by Aristo in Skali in Paphos.
The recent events have left villagers stunned and surprised that the authorities would go ahead with the arrest of such a prominent businessman.
Aristo Developers has denied any wrongdoing, saying the Paphos municipality got the calculations wrong. Aristodemou and his wife claim they are victims of false accusations.
Koulia’s community leader Michael Solonos told the Sunday Mail: “Aristo is the most important investor here and Mr Aristodemou is a resident of the village. The case will most likely affect the area and the community and investments here as well. We all want to believe it won’t affect us. Aristo has offered a lot to the area and our society as well.”
Kouklia councillor and resident Raymond Smith also said he was concerned.
“Apart from the thousands of employees that could be adversely affected by this, there is a huge investment in the area. I’m waiting to see the outcome,” he added.
Aristo Developers has been involved with various projects for more than 30 years and is one of the largest property developers on the island; it also owns huge chunks of land across Cyprus. Developments include apartments, townhouses, villas and luxurious golf homes.
One such Aristo project is an exclusive development at Ha Potami -Secret Valley in Kouklia, where most of the properties are owned by British ex-pats.
Mike Richards owns an Aristo built house at Ha Potami and is also the ex chairman of the owners association. He has lived in Cyprus on and off since 1972 and purchased his home in Kouklia in 2003.
“I’m concerned what will happen if the company goes to the wall. There could be serious implications for those who have yet to get their title deeds,” he said.
Aristo is now in the process of issuing title deeds for properties in Secret Valley.
“Some people in high places believe that they are bomb proof but I think these big developers are now being squeezed from all sides. I think the worm has turned and the authorities are perhaps taking a different stance now. In the case of Aristo a recent multi-million euro deal in the area fell through,” Richards added.
Just a few months ago Aristo Developers announced that negotiations with China Glory International Investment Group (CGIG) concerning the sale of the golf resort and residencies at Venus Rock in Ha Potami, had broken down.
Dolphin Capital Investors (DCI), a major shareholder in Aristo, said that the talks over the €240 million deal fell through after the Chinese investors failed to adhere to the payment terms. This resulted in Aristo notifying CGIG of the termination of the agreement, they said.
“I think that Cyprus thought that the Chinese were the answer,” said Richards.
“Maybe they realise now that is not the case. The authorities have allowed massive mortgages and gone overboard on building in Cyprus; they haven’t shown any prudence at all. Perhaps that will all change now.”
Following the failed deal, Dolphin announced that two other parties had shown interest in the full or partial sale of Venus Rock and that Aristo was negotiating with them. No further news on the project has been forthcoming since then.
Richards noted that a decision to form the Ha Potami owners group was galvanized by common grievances in 2007.
He said that when he purchased his property in 2003, two separate areas shown on the original plans were allocated as part of an 18-hole golf course. Clients paid a premium of around 10-15 per cent for properties overlooking the proposed course.
The ex chairman said that after purchasing, owners were informed that the relevant permission for the creation of a golf course hadn’t been granted and so instead, more villas would be built on the ‘green’ area. “People would then be looking at the roofs of loads of villas,” said Richards.
Action was taken and lawyers consulted, but due to the economic downturn the villas have yet to be built. However, they are still shown on the current plans, he added.
Finance and operations director of Aristo Developers Savvas Georghiades looked to allay fears. He told the Sunday Mail: “All operations are continuing as usual at Aristo. The procedure of issuing title deeds is running smoothly and there are no reasons for it not too continue in this way.”
Georghiades said that in excess of 1,000 deeds were awaiting collection. “We are inviting people to come and collect them,” he said.