Title deeds will stop holding the Presidency of the EU
"Can you imagine Cyprus holding the Presidency of the EU with this nonsense going on?"
By Nathan Morley
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Mail, British peer Lord Jones of Cheltenham tells of how the powerlessness of those caught in the title deed trap prompted him to act in the House of Lords. )
IT WAS a question from a British peer that exposed legislation to fix the much hyped title deeds saga was a fantasy.
A month later the same man shot another broadside when he publicly warned that buying a house in Cyprus was a risky endeavour and called for the closure of Cypriot developers in the UK.
Since being rocketed in the local news headlines, Lord Jones of Cheltenham has declined to speak to the media, but in a rare interview this week, he told of how he became involved in the Cyprus property quagmire.
"I received a stream of letters and emails from UK citizens who had been caught in the trap. It struck me as (a) unjust and (b) an ideal issue for the House of Lords to mull over. My file of cases grows by the week. I am unable to take up individual cases as that is the job of the person's own MP and lawyer," he said.
It was his call last month for the British government to shut down the UK offices of Cypriot companies selling property and to impose a ban on the promotion of Cyprus property at overseas property exhibitions in the UK; that caused a considerable stir in Cyprus. However, he admitted, he never expected such proposals to be adopted.
"If it has concentrated the minds of good, honest property businesses in Cyprus to put pressure on their own government to sort out the mess, then it might have achieved something. Under European competition law, the idea of shutting business is almost certainly anti-competitive and therefore illegal. No doubt that is why the UK Government has turned down the idea."
In the event, the British government said they would not take any steps to close down offices of Cypriot companies or ban the promotion of Cyprus property at exhibitions unless they received evidence of illegal behaviour.
With British and European politicians lining up to condemn the Cyprus governments lack of action on the deeds fiasco, Lord Jones is happy to offer advice to the government in Nicosia.
"There are two issues. First, pass a piece of legislation obliging title deeds to be passed over on completion of new property sales. This ought to be relative straightforward as no retrospection is involved.
"Second, ban the use of title deeds for properties already sold to someone else to raise loans for further developments (or any other purpose). Again this should be relatively straightforward.
"Third, use whatever powers they currently have to force handover of deeds for sales which have happened already - including European competition law.
"I understand a fee is payable to the Cypriot government every time deeds are handed over, so there is a financial incentive for them to act. If additional legislation is necessary, I'm sure property lawyers can advise."
Jones added that with potential buyers and EU governments increasing aware of the problem the state should be busily working on a fix.
"If it is not sorted out, the advice to UK citizens and other Europeans will become stronger to have nothing to do with the property sector in Cyprus. I know that recently elected MEPs are onto the case in the European Parliament. There is therefore some urgency in sorting out the mess. Can you imagine Cyprus holding the Presidency of the EU with this nonsense going on?"
With many developers criticising his recent questions to the Upper House, Jones had a simple, but blunt message for them.
"I have every sympathy with good, honest property companies who have done nothing wrong. They probably felt a bit bruised by the questions and I'm sorry for that. My real target is the rogues who are damaging the image of the industry for everyone else. My message to them is 'Clean up your act!'"
Currently, the title deeds to more than 100,000 properties have still not been received by their owners, 30,000 of them non-Cypriot, with little sign that any new fix is in the pipeline.
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