The European Court of Justice supported the claim of Greek Cypriot Meletis Apostolides to the ownership of land on which Linda and David Orams, a British couple, built a holiday home, after he was forced to leave in 1974.
The long-awaited and complex ruling is likely to strengthen any legal claims Greek Cypriots might want to assert over their former properties, and a lawyer has warned foreigners with suspect land there to seek legal advice.
The decision revolves around a court case in Nicosia dating from 2005. In the case, the Orams were ordered to demolish a villa, built on land popular with foreign pensioners, which they had bought from Turkish Cypriots and to pay compensation. Mr. Apostolides, took the case to a British appeals court so that the order Ğ which recognised his ownership of the land Ğ would be enforced.
The British court sent the case to the EU tribunal for a ruling on the complicated issue of whether the decision by the court in Nicosia was applicable in northern Cyprus.
"The recognition and enforcement of the judgements of the Cypriot court cannot be refused in the United Kingdom," the court said on Tuesday. "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 judgements in another member state," it added.
The Orams argued the property was bought in good faith, but they could now face enforcement action through the British courts, as Greek Cyprus is an EU member.
The Greek Cypriot-run government welcomed the judgement. The court "has defended the property right of the citizens of the Republic of Cyprus, as EU citizens, irrespective of whether the property is located in the free or in the occupied areas," spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat said in a statement from his office: "Unless the Cyprus problem is solved, it is not possible to solve the property issue comprehensively.
Some 4,000 Britons live in northern Cyprus.