Following allegations of Turkish Cypriot owned land in the south being undervalued and the owner under-sold, an ongoing inquiry is also delving into the office of the Guardian of Turkish Cypriot Properties’ overall handling of Turkish Cypriot properties in the south.
The office of the Guardian of Turkish Cypriot Properties was set up as a government body within the interior ministry under the ‘Turkish-Cypriot Properties Law’ of 1991, and acts as the caretaker of properties belonging to Turkish Cypriots “for the duration of the abnormal situation” caused by the Turkish peacekeeping operation in 1974.
The probe was ordered last month by Interior minister Socrates Hasikos who, appearing before the panel, called the deal “a stitch-up from beginning to end.”
Mary Lambrou, a senior Interior ministry officer and deputy director of the department of Turkish Cypriot properties, was testifying before the investigative panel which was looking into the 2011 sale of a plot of land in Dromolaxia-Meneou, near Larnaca airport.
The panel heard that Mustafa Mehmet Mustafa, the 73-year-old Turkish Cypriot owner of the land in Dromolaxia, got a bad deal, his land having been transferred for some €1m less than its going market value.
Mustafa sold 50 lots in total, of an area of 30,000 square meters, to the Greek Cypriot company Wadnic Trading Ltd, for around €1.8m.
Of the 50 lots, seven were eventually transferred to a self-help housing project in Dromolaxia, apparently without the necessary appropriation procedures by the state.
According to Lambrou, during a meeting between her department and Mustafa in April 2008, the Turkish Cypriot offered to hand over the seven lots (of an area of 2,634 square meters) for free, presumably as a sweetener.
Lambrou said the department rejected the offer lest it be construed as a bribe, and counter-proposed that the government pay Mustafa a token amount of €70,000 for the seven lots. Mustafa agreed.
Prior to that meeting, she said, another meeting had taken place between a representative of Wadnic Trading Ltd and the then interior minister. She was personally not present at that meeting and did not know what was discussed.
Asked whether the Guardian does not have a duty to protect the interests of Turkish Cypriot owners, Lambrou responded: “The department’s doors are closed to property buyers or intermediaries, and contact is made only with [Turkish Cypriot] applicants or property owners.”
Lambrou submitted documents showing that since 1974, 483 applications for transfer of Turkish Cypriot properties have been approved: 51 in Nicosia, 283 in Larnaca, 100 in Limassol and 49 in Paphos.
The majority of applications were rejected, she said.