British expats in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus could face claims on their property after a London judge ruled definitively that one couple must demolish their home, give the land back to the original Cypriot owner and pay him compensation. English couple David and Linda Orams appealed against the decision originally made by courts in Nicosia and backed by the European Court of Justice and took their case to the UK Court of Appeal.
Lord Justice Pill though upheld the original decision. Now they have left their home in Cyprus and are living with friends while they try to comply with the ruling. They face difficulties because the TRNC does not recognise the court ruling and officials say they will not demolish the villa.
If the Orams do not comply, however, the British court could order the sale of their home in Britain to pay compensation to original owner Meletious Apostolides whose costs are estimated at €1 million.
Now thousands of foreign property owners in northern Cyprus who bought land which once belonged to Cypriots forced to flee after the invasion by Turkey in 1974, could face legal action, according to industry experts.
The London ruling could serve as a precedent as the United Nations regards 78% of the land in the north as Greek Cypriot property. ‘This creates a new legal framework in cases where foreigners are trespassing on such properties,’ said Constantis Candounas, Apostolides’ lawyer. He added, however, that ‘each case must be decided on its own particular facts’.
The UK judgment also said that European courts should recognise and implement decisions taken in the courts of the internationally recognised republic, which is an EU member. Since the London court gave Apostolides the option of securing redress in the UK, this could be applied to other cases lodged in the EU.
According to the ruling, non-recognition by EU courts of decisions taken by a court of an EU member could have negative consequences. The Orams’ counsel Cherie Booth, wife of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, argued in court that a decision against the Orams could jeopardize ongoing reunification negotiations between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders. This though was dismissed by the court.
Serden Hoca, a member of the Turkish Cypriot committee which discusses the property issue in extensive negotiations to merge the island, said about 10,000 foreigners reside in the occupied areas, of which 5,000 own property. Of those, 90% are British. The UK Foreign Office advises British citizens that buying property in the TRNC is fraught with problems. ‘The ownership of many properties is disputed in northern Cyprus, with many thousands of claims to ownership of properties from people displaced during the events of 1974. Purchase of these properties could have serious financial and legal implications,’ it says on its website.
Hoca said it was possible Greek Cypriots may be encouraged by the outcome of the case to consider taking action for property they have lost. Turkish Cypriot officials said that there is no need for panic and gave assurances to the approximate 15,000 British residents who purchased property and live in the North.