Authorities scrambled on Friday to get to the bottom of reports in the north that Greek Cypriot owned hotels and buildings in Varosha had been bought by an unnamed Turkish Cypriot businessman.
According to reports in Yenis Bakis, the businessman has bought three hotels and two floors of a building in the fenced-off ghost town of Varosha in Famagusta. The report also publishes documents of an alleged private contract of sale and apostille that seem to have been certified by Republic of Cyprus officials, including some from the Nicosia district administration offices.
Although the document bears these official signatures, one issue that came up is that the witness who signed on the private contract only provided a first name, Kleanthis, but no surname.
The three hotels the businessman claims to have bought are the Cleo Hotel, the Golden Seaside Apartment Hotel, and the Aegean Hotel, adding that reservations would start to be made by 2025.
“The Turkish Cypriot businessman, who also received approval from the Greek Cypriot interior ministry for the purchase contract for the hotels and apartment buildings he bought, said that Turkey’s stance on the issue of Varosha and the statements it constantly makes on the issue of Varosha inspire confidence,” Turkey’s ambassador to the ‘TRNC’, Metin Feyzioglu said.
The businessman also claimed that the Cyprus interior ministry had confirmed the sale of the property in Varosha. He told the Turkish Cypriot paper that he has been following the Varosha issue closely for four years, adding that he bought the hotels by meeting with their owners and that they got approval for it from the interior ministry and the ‘TRNC interior ministry’.
The businessman, who is preparing to sign deals with tour operators abroad, said he would start taking bookings for 2025 within a month, should no obstacle arise.
However, the Cyprus government was quick to weigh in on the matter, saying that they had read the reports, but would need to investigate them further, as the government’s land registry has said that there were no such official sale documents in their files.
CNA reported that information from the land registry department said that no agreement for the sale of hotel units in the fenced-off area of Varosha has been officially filed with them.
Regarding the report about the sale, which also published a copy of a private agreement, CNA’s information said that this ‘contract’ picture was a document subject to an apostille process.
The apostille procedure concerns “documents of private law, e.g. wills, agreements, power of attorney documents, to be referred for an apostille to the justice ministry. It is noted that the documents in question should first be presented before a certifying official, for certification of the signature on the document, and then to the district administration for certification of the [first] certifying official’s signature and seal,” CNA reported.
When asked why this procedure was being carried out, the same sources said that it was used to further certify the authenticity of the signatures or for one of the contracting parties to use this document abroad.
Two out of the three cases of real estate allegedly purchased by the Turkish Cypriot businessman in Varosha, concern related applications to the Immovable Property Commission (IPC) in the north, which is recognised by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) as a domestic remedy to property issues in Cyprus arising from the island’s division.
Reacting to the issue, lawyer Achilleas Demetriades told the Cyprus Mail on Friday there were three legal issues that arise with the properties in Varosha.
One of them is the companies that may have owned the properties in the area may no longer exist as entities, making claims through the IPC invalid.
Another point he raised was that the Turkish Cypriot side has been claiming since the opening of Varosha in 2019 that the area belongs to the Turkish Cypriot religious foundation Evkaf.
The last legal issue has to due with the title deeds in the case of the private buildings, and who has them, and if the property had been transferred to the individual that signed off on the sale.
However, the foundation has made no statements regarding the specific cases.
Commenting on the political aspect of these ‘sales’ in Varosha, Demetriades said: “The Greek Cypriot side has again been caught unprepared.”
He added that when the area was opened by the Turkish Cypriot side back in 2019, the government could have taken more actions against Turkey, including filing a case to the EU courts as Ankara had violated UN resolutions 550 and 789, which call for Varosha to be returned to its original owners.
In further statements about the report, he said if the report is true, “chances of a Cyprus solution have significantly diminished.”
Also weighing in on the matter, Famagusta Mayor Simos Ioannou said that there has been information that Greek Cypriot hotel owners had been in contact with businesspeople in the north, but they were unaware of the specific cases.
Ioannou added that the certifying officer should have paid attention when signing the documents, as it was for property in Varosha.
“The bottom line is to stop the effort to sell the properties [hotels], because if it continues, the enclosed area [Varosha] will be lost,” he said.
He noted that there have been no Cyprus talks for six years and if they do not start negotiations to find a solution, those who “believe that we should not start talks should not blame those who go and sell their properties. If some people think that this status quo is in our favour, it is not.”
If the sales, he said, were made through the IPC, then for the Turkish Cypriot buyer, the process is legal and the Greek Cypriot seller got the money.
Earlier in the week, the IPC had said that over 7,200 applications had been filed to them by Greek Cypriots.
To date compensation of £382,541,826 sterling has been awarded for 1,233 claims.
For four applications a return of the property was decided, in two cases an exchange and compensation were decided and for eight applications a return and compensation were decided.
According to the report on Wednesday, the total number of applications to the IPC reached 7,248 as of April 2023.