The European Union's top court backed yesterday the right of Greek Cypriots to reclaim property they abandoned in the north of the island when it was divided, and which was then sold to foreigners.
The European Court of Justice supported the claim of a Greek Cypriot for restitution from a British couple who built a holiday home on land he was forced to leave when Turkish troops intervened in northern Cyprus in 1974. As a result of this event, some 170,000 Greek Cypriots fled south, abandoning their properties in the north. Many were distributed among Turkish Cypriots who subsequently sold them to foreigners, mainly Britons.
The complex ruling is likely to strengthen the Greek Cypriots' legal claim on their former properties.
The decision revolves around a court case in Nicosia in 2005, in which British nationals Linda and David Orams were ordered to demolish their villa, built on land they had bought from Turkish Cypriots, and pay compensation.
The land's original owner, Greek Cypriot Meledis Apostolides, took the case to a British appeals court asking for the order to be enforced. The British court sent the case to the EU court in Luxembourg for a ruling on the complicated issue of whether the decision by the Nicosia court is applicable in the Turkish north. "The recognition and enforcement of the judgments of the Cypriot court cannot be refused in the United Kingdom," the EU court said.
The Turkish Cypriot state in northern Cyprus is recognized by Turkey, but not by the rest of the international community, while the southern two-thirds of the island is an EU member state.
"The fact that the land concerned is situated in an area over which the government does not exercise effective control... does not preclude the recognition and enforcement of those judgments in another member state," the court said, adding that "the fact that Meledis Apostolides might encounter difficulties in having the judgments enforced can not deprive them of their enforceability.
Thousands of property investors may be in danger of losing vacation homes in the northern part of Cyprus after the court ruling, said Bloomberg.
The court case, which has bounced from courts in Nicosia to London to Luxembourg, has implications for many of the 22,000 foreign investors, mostly from the UK, said Marian Stokes, the founder of a group that advises owners of homes in the region.
"It’s absolutely gutting," said Stokes of the Homebuyers’ Pressure Group. "It’s so sad, because people stand to lose so much money." The Orams’ lawyer, Hasan Vahib in London, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Complicating the peace talks
Europe's highest court ruling complicated the peace talks, according to The Wall Street Journal. The ruling in the closely-watched case could spur more judicial land claims Ğ and rattle delicate peace talks aimed at unifying the island, in which decades-old property claims are a touchy topic and a difficult obstacle. Greek Cyprus became a member of the EU in 2004, but with a special provision that EU law doesn't apply in the region controlled by Turkish Cypriots.