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Human rights lawyer rolls out proposal to solve the property issue

Lawyer and presidential candidate Achilleas Demetriades

Human rights lawyer Achilleas Demetriades has a series of proposals to muster funds in the order of €20bn, in an effort to tackle the property issue, one of the thorniest aspects of the Cyprus problem.

The former member of the Technical Committee on Property told CNA in an interview: “We need to clearly define the property issue in order to present a ‘turnkey solution’ to the problem”.

Demetriades, who has handled many cases in the European Court of Human Rights, analysed his set of proposals, which he calls “one page brainstorming”, containing facts, assumptions and incentives for a positive outcome.

Among other points, Demetriades said that zoning should be frozen for at least two years to minimise speculation. He proposes that refugees’ claims to the Federal Immovable Property Commission to be separated between those seeking a “fast track” remedy, i.e. cash repayment, and those aiming for restitution or other time-consuming options.

“Most people want to take their money and go” especially after the 2013 financial crisis, he said.

Before explaining the rationale behind his proposal to secure the necessary funds, Demetriades refers to existing difficulties to agree with the math. “We get bogged down in details, unfortunately” although this shouldn’t prevent us from getting into the methodology of the problem, he says.

The lawyer admits, however, that there is no agreed data, and says that numbers require perhaps adjustment. As the basis for his calculations, he uses various studies published by economists.

According to the estimates cited by Demetriades, there are 1.3m donums of Greek Cypriot land in the north with a value €45bn. Turkish Cypriot land in the government-controlled areas of the Republic amounts to 0.4m donums, worth €5 bln.

He says that in the event of a solution, each constituent state should undertake the cost of compensation and re-housing, potentially with international assistance. As an example, he points to Turkey’s capital share available in the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB).

His first assumption is that territorial adjustments will eventually lead to the return of Greek Cypriot properties, worth €20-25m, to their owners. The return of the fenced-off part of Turkish occupied Famagusta, with its high value properties, will contribute to that. According to the same rationale, the remaining Greek Cypriot properties in the northern part of the island will account for around €20bn.

Then there is the issue of Greek Cypriot refugees who say they want to return to their properties after a settlement. If we are to believe a study that sets their number to 22% of the total, Demetriades said that this will bring down compensation claims by another €5bn, leaving €15bn to be settled.

Moreover, he says that at least three quarters of Turkish Cypriot land in the southern government controlled areas has been assigned to the unrecognised “government”, in return for receiving property that is located in the north. This, he said, facilitates the return of this property to the Greek Cypriot side, lowering the bill to around €10bn.

One of the proposals to drop figures even further, is to allocate a share of the federal debt to Turkish Cypriots, after Ankara pardons their own debt. A share of €5bn will work as a “unifying factor”, Demetriades said and noted that this is “a creative way” to reduce the bill.

Finally, he proposes the remaining €5bn to be covered by Turkey, either through guarantees to the Federal Immovable Property Commission, its CEB capital or otherwise.

In case all of this is not enough to cover the necessary funds, Demetriades proposes to count in the proceeds of gas revenue and in particular those coming from the gas pipeline that will traverse Turkey.

“All this will be widely contested’ the lawyer admits, he says however that “we should not let unknown factors prevent us from outlining the problem.”

Demetriades also presented a series of possible incentives to make his proposal work. He proposes to pay compensation to Greek Cypriots in cash or set up a trust, similar to that in Lebanon.

Another suggestion is to impose a two-year moratorium on foreclosures, in exchange of priority repayments of mortgages to Commercial Banks, using the money from compensation.

As for the Bank for Reconstruction that will be called to subsidise rebuilding activity, Demetriades proposes to capitalise it, among others, by attracting funds through a tax amnesty for Cypriots, as well as for non-Cypriots opting for the nationality scheme.

He also proposes the Federal Cyprus to enter into a Double Tax Treaty and a Bilateral Investment Treaty with Turkey, as well as to renegotiate the one with the UK in view of Brexit.

The human rights lawyer said finally that Cyprus should not expect too much from an international donor conference, when there are so many pressing cases arounf the world, such as Syria.

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