FOR THE first time ever, the government has approved the exchange of property between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot owners north and south of the island in what Attorney-general Petros Clerides was at pains to stress yesterday is a “special” one-off case.
Despite his claims, the government’s decision to transfer ownership of Turkish Cypriot property in Larnaca to Greek Cypriot refugee Dr Mike Tymvios and then purchase the land from Tymvios will have pricked up the ears of the Turkish Cypriot leadership which has long argued for a comprehensive property settlement based on exchange.
Clerides yesterday confirmed a report in daily Politis that the cabinet has approved the exchange of land between a Turkish Cypriot refugee and Tymvios, five years after the Greek Cypriot had reached a friendly agreement with Turkey over his occupied property.
In 2003, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in favour of Tymvios, finding Turkey guilty of violating his human rights.
Four years later, after applying to the Immovable Property Commission (IPC) in the north, Tymvios reached an amicable settlement with Turkey, agreeing to exchange approximately 600 donums of land near Tymbou in the north for 27 donums of Turkish Cypriot land in Larnaca.
(A donum is 14,400 square feet – 1,338 square metres).
However, the friendly settlement proved a headache for the government as the land in question now had two schools sitting on it and a number of businesses.
The Land Registry in Larnaca, on the advice of the Attorney-general, refused to allow the transfer of Title Deeds to Tymvios.
The Greek Cypriot refugee filed two lawsuits at the Larnaca District Court against Cyprus for failing to approve the transfer, while seeking €1 million in rent for each year they delay the transfer.
His case was further strengthened in 2008 when the ECHR endorsed the friendly settlement between Tymvios and Turkey, finding that the outcome did not violate his human rights in any way.
Since that endorsement, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers (CoM) has been responsible for monitoring the implementation of the decision.
In 2010, Tymvios said he would take the government all the way to the ECHR to defeat the law on the Guardianship of Turkish Cypriot properties which was preventing him from seeing the deal through.
Legal experts have long warned that the guardianship law, put together to handle Turkish Cypriot properties in the government-controlled areas, was full of holes that could easily be picked apart if ever examined closely by the Strasbourg court.
Clerides yesterday confirmed that on his advice, the guardian of Turkish Cypriot properties, Interior Minister Eleni Mavrou proposed to cabinet that the transfer be approved and that the land be bought off Tymvios for €13 million.
He argued that the two proposals, approved by cabinet, were in the public interest and would “in no way open the door to the exchange of properties” between north and south.
“The value of the land is much greater than what was agreed, the land’s value was calculated at 21 million Euros,” he said, noting that two public schools were on the land.
The €13 million would be paid to Tymvios in four instalments.
He proposed a private land sale with Tymvios as expropriation would have tied the state’s hands over what it could do with the property in the future.
The AG highlighted that this was a “special” case since the friendly settlement had the “blessing” of the ECHR and its implementation was being monitored by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers.
And after five years, the hearings for the lawsuits against Cyprus were finally about to start.
Clerides argued that following the Demopolous case at the ECHR which pulled the plug on all Greek Cypriot property applications to the ECHR, forcing them to go via the IPC in the north first, there won’t be another case like this one.
“No road has opened for exchanges, the road to the ECHR has closed with the Demopoulos case,” said Clerides, adding, “this does not create a precedent”.
However, the AG appeared to dismiss the possibility of another challenge in the local courts going all the way to Strasbourg if and when the Land Registry refuses to approve the next exchange of property agreed at the IPC between a Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot owner.
Human rights lawyer Achilleas Demetriades told the Cyprus Mail yesterday that the result was to be expected, since the friendly agreement had the “seal of approval” of the ECHR.
“The interesting thing is this type of settlement confirms that the transfer of property by the Turkish Cypriots to Mr Tymvios is allowed, and that’s why the government is buying the land off him.
“More importantly it signifies the start of a new approach, namely that exchange, in fact facilitated by the IPC, is not out of the question,” said Demetriades.
He noted that the government would have to explain why it opposes a similar case of exchange in the future seeing as it has already approved it once.
Tymvios yesterday refused to comment on the case.