Cyprus Mail

Paphos mayor raises stakes in land probe

Paphos Mayor Phedonas Phedonos

Paphos mayor Phedonas Phedonos upped the ante on Thursday, claiming a coterie of politicians and senior civil servants in key positions are implicated in the transfer of Turkish-Cypriot land, in the south, to ineligible persons and companies.

“A political meshwork clearly exists involving politicians and civil servants. This intrigue includes movers and shakers, those who enjoy [the benefits of using Turkish-Cypriot properties], and they are well-known cadres of various political parties,” the outspoken mayor told reporters.

“You see them always spruced up and wearing their cravats, they’re always out there in the limelight. The reason they are in the public eye pretending to be actively engaged in public affairs, is that if you are a powerful public figure, no one will touch you, but if you’re the little guy [engaging in corrupt practices] they will take your house.”

He stopped short of naming names.

Since the war and the displacement of populations 43 years ago, all Turkish Cypriot property where the owner is not resident is administered by the state as guardian, collecting low rents, mainly from Greek Cypriot refugees who are deemed as eligible beneficiaries because they lost their own land from the Turkish occupation.

It has been found that many Greek Cypriots who rent Turkish-Cypriot land, at token fees, then sub-lease them at far higher rates.

Despite the threat of a slander lawsuit, Phedonos kept up the pressure on businessman Nicos Shacolas and his company Cyprus Limni Resorts and Golf Courses Plc, which was granted two licenses for two golf courses in Limni, Paphos.

This, Phedonos claimed, the company achieved after securing title deeds over Turkish Cypriot land in the area and being allowed to rent other Turkish Cypriot properties – which under the law it should not have.

Whereas only Greek Cypriot refugees are eligible to be granted use of Turkish Cypriot land or properties, there are exceptions: the properties may be rented to either public utilities or to local government authorities, like municipalities, for reasons of public interest.

However, Phedonos pointed out, Cyprus Limni Resorts and Golf Courses Plc meets  none of these criteria as it is a private company.

The Cyprus Mail understands that Shacolas exchanged land he owned elsewhere in Paphos with some 325,000 square meters of Turkish Cypriot land near Limni and on which the businessman took title deed.

In addition, in the same vicinity he rented about 25 separate land plots belonging to different owners and of a total area of 280,000 square meters, for which he paid a nominal rental fee of €3000 per year.

Phedonos contends that it was precisely because Shacolas was allowed to own and/or rent Turkish Cypriot properties that he was able to acquire a contiguous tract of land in the area, allowing him to build the Limni golf complex there.

Otherwise, the company would have ended up with a smaller area and would have been able only to apply for a single golf license, instead of two licenses for two golf courses.

In addition, Phedonos said, initially at Limni due to ecological considerations there was a prohibition on building anything at a distance less than 485 metres from the shoreline; this requirement was later watered down to 285 metres and finally to 200 metres.

With Phedonos having let the cat out of the bag, the Cyprus Agricultural Payments Organisation (Capo) publicly conceded on Thursday that some farm subsidies concerning the use of Turkish-Cypriot land may not be above aboard.

Head of Capo Timis Efthymiou spoke of inadequate checks on applications for farming subsidies on a per-hectare basis, where this concerned land originally belonging to Turkish Cypriots.

It emerged that, up until now, applicants had not been required to also produce a copy of their agreement with the Custodian of Turkish-Cypriot properties, affirming that they were eligible to make use of this category of land, which has special constraints.

This state of affairs would be corrected, and presenting a copy of the agreement would become mandatory as of next year, Efthymiou said. The process of reviewing the use of Turkish Cypriot land for farming was begun in December 2015 with former interior minister Socratis Hasikos, he added.

Moreover, concerning farming subsidies granted by Capo on state-owned land and Turkish-Cypriot plots, Efthymiou said authorities have tracked some 11,000 cultivations for which no lease contracts are extant.

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