By Elias Hazou
THE CABINET has rescinded a bizarre 2012 decision to expropriate land in Moutayiakka belonging to a Turkish Cypriot, after it emerged that no public project was – or could ever be – built on the real estate.
As reported by Politis, the interior ministry’s in-house auditor is now looking into possible malfeasance, since the previous administration had agreed to pay the Turkish Cypriot landowner €2.5m – although as it turned out no money may have changed hands.
This is because, the daily writes, the Christofias government meanwhile had to tighten the purse strings and did not keep its end of the bargain with the instalment payments to the landowner.
But the case has nevertheless come under scrutiny, because the expropriation was part of a package deal, where the state also green-lighted the sale of other land plots belonging to the same Turkish Cypriot man to Greek Cypriot companies.
According to the minutes of a March 27, 2012 cabinet meeting – revealed by Politis – the government of the day approved the expropriation of some 37,000 square metres in Moutayiakka for the purpose of building refugee housing.
The interior minister then was Eleni Mavrou, although she assumed the portfolio on 20 March 2012 – just seven days before the cabinet decision. She replaced Neoklis Sylikiotis, who was switched to the commerce ministry.
Asked by the Mail, Mavrou said she did not handle the case, which was decided before she came into the interior ministry. Sylikiotis, now an MEP, could not be reached for comment.
The state offered the owner €2.5m for the land, although its going market rate is said to have been double that. Expropriation prices are typically lower than the market value. As an incentive to get the Turkish Cypriot to agree, the state made arrangements that he sell 10 other land plots. The latter plots were to be purchased for around €10m – their true market value – by two Greek Cypriot companies.
In doing so, the government at the time may have thought it had cut a good deal by saving €2.5m. It later transpired that, instead, the state likely threw away €2.5m in taxpayer money.
This emerged when current Interior Minister Socrates Hasikos discovered that in fact the expropriated land was never slated for development, because the subsoil at the site was not suitable for building homes.
In short, no public project was carried out on the expropriated real estate. This automatically invalidated the very reason for the expropriation – building houses for Greek Cypriot refugees. However this had not prevented the previous administration from taking the Turkish Cypriot’s land and paying him far less than what it was worth.
Having determined something was amiss, Hasikos proposed rescinding the expropriation as well as the sale of the other land plots; the cabinet endorsed his proposal.
The Mail contacted the interior ministry to confirm whether any taxpayer money was paid out for the expropriation, but was unable to reach an official there.
According to Politis, in order to make the package agreement happen, the Turkish Cypriot man’s mother and two brothers – who all live in the north – signed a sworn statement waiving their inheritance rights over the property.
As a result the man – who migrated to the United Kingdom before 1974 – was able to act as the applicant and beneficiary, and according to the March 2012 cabinet decision the deal with the state was formulated as an amicable settlement.
Only Turkish Cypriots who migrated before 1974 – and are therefore considered as not benefiting from Greek Cypriot property in the occupied areas – are eligible to sell their property in the south.
Earlier this year, in a bid to minimise wasteful spending, the cabinet decided to record all properties that have been expropriated by the state but have not been used within three years.
Hasikos at the time said the state owed over €550m to owners of expropriated properties. He attributed this “mess” to bad planning on behalf of state authorities, noting that in some cases private interests appeared to be served instead of the public.