ROSE (not her real name) came to Cyprus in May 2005. She and her husband found an old house that needed repair and bought it for £92,000 from a builder.
“We asked about a solicitor and were told there was one in the same block as the builder, and we were introduced,” Rose said. “In hindsight, we should not have gone.” The couple signed a contract and later sent £29,000 to the lawyer from the UK. They had gone back to sell their house. The lawyer was supposed to hand over the money to the builder in increments as the work progressed.
Instead he gave the builder the entire £29,000. That was the last they saw of it, and of any work on the house.
When the couple returned to Cyprus after selling their home in the UK, they were told planning permission had not been received but it would be in the next batch. In the meantime, they were forced to rent in Cyprus for £500 a month.
They were then told out of the blue that the man who sold them the house didn’t actually own it himself but he was dealing with the sale. “We said if it’s not yours, we don’t want it.”
They asked for their £29,000 back, but agreed to take £20,000 and cut their losses, but the builder never showed up. “This went on for months,” said Rose.
The couple then decided to change lawyer because he first “took our money and gave it away,” Rose added.
Two more lawyers and a good deal of money later, the couple had got nowhere. They bought another house, but did not have enough left to purchase it outright and had to take a mortgage.
As they are both retired, they have no income other than their pensions, and the mortgage is £350 per month. “By the time we pay it back, we will be 85 years old,” said Rose, adding that her husband has already had two heart attacks. “Our life savings are gone. We had a house on an acre of land in Yorkshire and now we have a mortgage for another 15 years.”
Finally, they hired another lawyer on a no-win no-fee basis, but he still asked for a £500 pound deposit, which they handed over. “He’s done nothing, and that’s since last March,” Rose said.
The couple decided in the end to sell up and move back to the UK, but have since discovered the new house was built on a shared plot, which complicates things even further, and the couple feels they have nowhere left to turn.
“We no longer have any money to pursue this,” said Rose. “They could play these games with us to infinity”.
ONE BRITISH man fighting to resolve his case with developers is on his fourth lawyer and finally thinks this one, whom he recently contacted through the British High Commission list, might be the one that will finally produce some results.
The man, who did not want to be identified, said his first lawyer in 2005 whom he had used for conveyancing, ditched him after he spent months begging her to respond to his calls.
“I was dumped as a client by email when my case turned sour,” he said.
“According to their website, property litigation is on their range of legal services; however, in my case they gave me the run around for weeks, maybe months.
Eventually they said it’s not their area of expertise. Goodbye: as a kiss goodbye I then had to chase her for almost six months to return the £29,000 she held on my client account. I have recorded conversations of me screaming down the phone. My money was finally returned, without of course any interest.”
His next lawyer, he said, did nothing during the five months or so that he was a client, and it was during this time that the situation with the developers became even worse.
“Nothing was gained and very little done for us. I have a mountain of correspondence we sent but she would not act on any of our instructions,” he added. “I paid her off.”
The third was a law firm, but he said he could not discuss details as their testimony was crucial to his ongoing case. “In one year with them I made 50 calls and they returned three or four,” he said. “It was absolutely dire. This lawyer had no clue. My case had been publicised and he had no idea. I had zero representation. I couldn’t get hold of him for over a month and I had to fly to Cyprus and sit down with the enemy myself,” he said.
After that he went to an out-of-town law firm who turned him down because his case was filed in another district. The British man said it got to the point where he seriously considered going off-island for a lawyer, but was lucky to find the lawyer he has now, he said. “It has been a struggle because all of the ones in the same town are connected,” he said.
“It’s been reasonably cheap for me but nothing was done so you get what you pay for. The other lawyers were always worried about their image in handling my case. UK lawyers may get paid a lot but at least they return your phone calls.”
IT’S BEEN just over a year since rogue lawyer Marios Shiaeles and his wife Niki Fasaria are believed to have fled Cyprus.
International arrest warrants have been issued against them, but there is no trace of the couple.
When they fled, they allegedly took with them client funds estimated to be in excess of three million pounds. Alleged victims cover at least seven different nationalities, with some investors losing hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Even though the victims’ group said the fugitive lawyer’s assets could be seized, the courts are insisting they be found first, they said.
“Based on this logic, if the police cannot find Shiaeles, justice will never be served and Shiaeles walks free with millions of pounds of stolen money,” said a statement from the victims’ group.
“The Cyprus judiciary need to be encouraged to ensure that fair justice is delivered for the victims rather than the legal process hindering the victims and ultimately protecting the criminal.”
One of the victims is currently offering a personal reward of £10,000 for information leading to the apprehension of Shiaeles and Fasaria.
The statement said some of the victims had been advised not to continue with publicity as they were at risk of repercussions from “some dangerous people“.
“We are not afraid,” said Barbara, another one of the victims. “When you’ve had the amount of money stolen that we have… it was the final instalment on our house and we had to find £100,000 for a second time. We will not give up until he is found.”
ACCORDING to a testimony on the Cyprus Property Action Group’s website, during 2001 and 2002, four families bought houses from a developer in Pyla. They visited a lawyer recommended by a friend and before proceeding asked the lawyer to confirm that the land was owned by the developer. It was confirmed that it was owned by the developer’s wife and that the lawyer had a letter giving permission to sell it.
The contract stated that the land “is now free from impediments and obstructions or claims by third parties” and that the “seller is compelled to transfer the freehold to the purchasers”. Five years later, they are still waiting because the land had been mortgaged and none of the mortgage has been repaid.
The development had also been built without planning permission.
“We have visited seven different solicitors; most have tried to help to no avail,” said the website account.
In March 2006 the buyers wrote to the Attorney-general, who referred the case to CID and a court hearing took place in July this year. Neither the developer nor his lawyer showed up. “The lawyer we originally employed is apparently acting on behalf of the developer in this court case. How bad is that?” said the testimony.
EXCERPTS FROM THE LAWYERS CODE OF CONDUCT
Advocates must always act in absolute independence, free of all forms of dependence or pressure, and external influence.
Advocates act only upon being so instructed by their client, unless mandated by another advocate representing the client or by a competent authority.
Advocates cannot accept a case if they are unable to handle it within a reasonable time period considering its circumstances and their other obligations.
Advocates must abstain from handling the cases of all concerned clients if a conflict of interest arises.
Advocates must never assure their client that their case will be successful but only give their opinion as to whether the case is well founded or not.
It is the advocates’ duty, at the stage of assignment of the case, to disclose to their client any interest they may have in the dispute or any relation to the parties.
In the absence of an explicit agreement, advocates must inform their client of the approximate requested fees, the amount of which must be fair, justified and reasonable under the circumstances.
Sunday Mail November 25, 2007
Copyright © Cyprus Mail 2007