General Meeting

30 October 2007

MINUTES

 

Chair:                                            Marian Stokes

Minutes:                                        Sheila Vango

Guest Speakers:                              Ron Hugo, Chairman, Aga Buyers Committee

                                                    David & Linda Orams

The meeting was opened at 3.30 pm by Marian Stokes, who welcomed our guest speakers and thanked the members for attending. She stated she did not intend to spend much time talking as there are guest speakers to do that, but would give a brief update on group activities. 

The Property Complaints Office (POC) has now received some 160 complaints, the workload surrounding the verification and collection of relevant paperwork has become overwhelming. Tugce works extremely hard doing this, but she only has the time in-between interviews and phone calls to do so. I know those of you who have lodged a complaint are anxious to know it is being taken seriously and worked on, but calling every week for an update is counter productive. If Tugce has anything to report, or needs clarification she will call you. I might add that you can help yourself greatly by ensuring that your paperwork is as complete as it can be – asking for help with your Permission to Buy (PTBuy) without providing the appropriate number is not helpful! As I always say, you have to help yourself – hand in a complete file and it will go forward to the committee long before an incomplete one!

Once a file is complete, it passes out of Tugce hands to the PCO Committee who then try to find a solution to the problem. This process in itself is slow as the members of this board (numbering 12) all have full time jobs as well. However, at least 3 of these board members are very active on our behalf and some 20 cases have been sorted – now quite what that means remains to be seen, at this stage it would appear that undertakings have been extracted from the offending builders to set matters straight. We shall continue to monitor things and report successes when our members report them back to us. It will be a good day when our members can be the guest speakers and talk of their successes! 

On the other hand, as much as the POC is doing a good job in dealing with our various situations, it comes to light that Baro (the official body for disciplining lawyers) is not. I do not know of one member who has received an acknowledgement of their complaint against their lawyer, let alone some action. This is very disappointing, but as always when one door closes in our faces we shall continue to look for another and in the meantime be sure to tell the Prime Minister (PM) and Interior Minister (IM) of this non event. Somebody somewhere will eventually take this matter seriously. Maybe our friend Hasan at the TRNC Human Rights Association! 

The Estate Agents Law (EAL) is coming into effect as of the 17th November 2007. This is great news for all future buyers and I am delighted that they will have some protection – this should mean we get very few new members! Some 140 Estate Agents have received certification – all the others must cease trading. I have asked for a list of certified Estate Agents to publish on our website, but do not have it as yet, I do however have a number you can call to check if an estate agent is legal, it is 0392 227 3673. As this is the TRNC – it goes without saying that many will continue to act illegally – if someone you know buys from an illegal Estate Agent, they will not have the protection of the new law – get them to phone and check! If they will not close up shop to abide by the law, then lets close them through NO SALES and reporting the fact they are operating outside the law. 

Two other matters and then I will hand over to our guest speakers. We have two petitions here today, one to support the Orams and by signing it you will be lobbying the European Court of Justice and Human Rights, David and Linda will tell you more about the background to that in a moment. 

The other petition is to lobby this government to tighten up on the laws regarding the purchase of poisons, I am sure many of you are aware of the spate of poisoning episodes in recent weeks aimed at dogs, it is indiscriminate and causes grief and suffering, not only to the animals but to responsible dog owners whose pets are victims. Please take the time to sign both.

Last word from me, for the moment – we have received an invitation to attend the Military Day being held at Hilarion on the 8th November, anyone wishing to attend, please give your name to Richard. 

Let me introduce you to Ron Hugo, who is the first of our speakers today. Ron has worked tirelessly for those caught up in the debacle that is Aga. Please give him a warm welcome and listen to his story of hope. 

Ron Hugo 

Ron started by thanking Marian and by giving some background information about Aga. In October 2005 work stopped at all Aga development sites, the largest of which was based at Amaranta Valley. Concerned buyers tried to find out why and were told, it is only Bayram and other such nonsense but the workers did not return and the plant and equipment disappeared offsite. This was a very anxious time with much rumour and misinformation. Finally, someone admitted that the government had blocked the work due to the absence of Gary Robb and the report of thousands of pounds he had taken with him to Thailand. Very little happened for six months until Gary Robb returned from Thailand in the spring of 2006 to sort the matter, things have progressed since then with many a rumour and false hopes. 

Brian Godfrey and I decided that we should try to find out the truth of the matter and started the rounds of seeking interviews with anyone who would discuss the matter, knocking on doors, calling meetings of buyers here in the TRNC and generally keeping the topic in the news. 

We saw Hasan Fındık in March 2006, who told us not to worry, it would be sorted. We saw the Minister of the Interior who said the same, we finally saw the PM, who told us the same. But it was all empty promises. The government did carry out a large scale investigation, but it did not help the buyers’ predicament one jot. The investigation appeared to clear Gary Robb, but work still did not recommence. However, we did not give up and just kept knocking on doors and asking for justice. 

Finally, in the summer of this year a proposal was put to all the buyers to enable work to start again at the sites – an additional £11,000 payment would be required from each person before work could commence. You can appreciate that there are some 600 people caught up in this mess, not of their own making, and everyone has different circumstances and financial wealth. Many people no longer want their properties; many are reluctant to part with more money when they have yet to see the return on the money they have invested. This plan was therefore not acceptable to a large proportion of Aga Buyers. Thank you, but no thank you. 

Then Marian introduced us to Hasan Sungur, he offered to find us a solicitor who would give his advice free of charge and arranged meetings with Gary Robb. The upshot is that work has recommenced at the sites, those of us who want our houses will get them, those who do not, will get a full refund of monies invested when the house concerned is sold in the open market, no monies will change hands until each property is finished.  This is the best result we have obtained so far, some of the Aga buyers in the UK are still sceptical of the offer and who can blame them, but we have to move forward and this is our best opportunity so far of doing so.  

Is this a success story? I hope so. It is certainly an example of what can be achieved by dogged determination. Marian’s determination led to the formation of the PCO and the new EAL, the Aga group may be one large recognisable group with a common problem, but then so is the HBPG. Support for one another is so important; we are stronger as an entity than as individuals. As a group we can think of and offer solutions to the people with authority that we see. It is important to at least seek a compromise for your particular situation and offer that up as a solution, think of a way to clear a backlog, don’t just complain, solve! Thank you for listening. 

Marian thanked Ron and reiterated, that self help is so important, it is all too easy to let your neighbour do the complaining and benefit from their efforts. A great example of how you can help others and yourself, will come from our next speakers. We are all only to aware of the battles some of us face when buying in the TRNC, you wait and fight for PTBuy, you run the gauntlet of deed transfer and then the chase to get your house registered on your land. Just when you think you can draw breath and enjoy your property along comes the Orams case and it’s implication for all of us. So with no further ado, let me introduce David and Linda Orams and ask them to explain more. 

David and Linda Orams

Hello I am David Orams and I am going to tell you of my involvement in this saga. Linda and I agreed to buy our house in March 2003, the house was at foundation stage when we first saw it. We loved the location of the land, mountains to the rear, sea to the front and decided that we should take a reality check and go home to think things through before committing to such a project. Needless to say our decision was to buy. We set about getting permission to buy a donum of land and finding a builder to finish the build. The day finally came when we received an email saying everything was finished, just the electric to go. So like so many others we decided to move in and get our electric connection later. This we achieved some three electric poles and a lot of cash later. So we had a smooth passage compared to so many of you, we have our Koçan, we have electric and water and are pleased with the house. We got what we paid for. Shortly after the border opened a car turned up one day and a Greek Cypriot man and woman got out, they said the olive grove our property was built in used to belong to them, looked around and left.

Then in Oct 2004, I left Linda here and returned to the UK to attend some business, she was happy to stay without me and finish putting touches to our new home as well as enjoying the Cypriot weather! As she was watering the garden two men entered our property and asked if she was Mrs Linda? 

This now becomes Linda’s story so I will pass the floor to her. 

Linda Orams: Seeing these strangers did not bother me, being close to Lapta and since the border had opened we were used to seeing Greek cars carrying people looking for places they had known, so I naturally said yes. They said they had some papers for me, I was perplexed especially as they were in Greek. I said I do not understand and refused to accept them. I could not phone David as he was on the plane to the UK, they kept telling me I had to sign for the papers, I kept telling them I do not speak or read Greek. It was all rather stressful. They left me with the papers. 

I finally got hold of David who offered to come back straight away, but I said No, let me find someone who can read these papers and see what it is all about and make a decision from there. That of course was easier said than done, finally our builder knew someone who told me they were legal papers and I would need the services of a solicitor and quick. The paperwork basically said that the original owner was claiming in the South Cyprus Courts for the return of his land, We would have to pull our house down and return the land to a olive grove and pay the original owner rent.  That of course brought our next problem; there are very few solicitors in the North who have a licence to work in the South Cyprus Law Courts! Eventually I was told about Gunesh Mentesh and made an appointment with him, by which time two weeks had passed. 

I saw Gunesh on a Friday afternoon, he agreed that the matter was urgent, especially as the deadline for filing an opposition was due to expire over the weekend, his first action was to go to the courts in the South and for a grace period. He would contact me as soon as he had any news. 

The following Tuesday, we had the most terrific storms in Girne, the rain lashed down and the power went so I decided to take a walk to my local and have a relaxing drink with some friends and chill for a bit.  For once luck was with me  By the time I wondered home, slightly glowing from the company and the beverages I found a message pined to the door from Gunesh. The Southern Cyprus Law Courts had issued a Judgement in Default to the former owner despite Gunesh’s protests that he had not had enough time to prepare a defence as I had been unable to read the content of the summons. He had come back to the North chasing the courts Process Servers and luckily I was not in to be served! Of course, this was not the end of the matter, after 3 weeks of coming and goings by Gunesh to the South we went to the district court in the South to appeal the Judgement and were told to go away as our paperwork was in English. We got it translated to Turkish and tried again. The judge we saw did not speak or read Turkish; we therefore had to wait 3 weeks until a Judge who did speak Turkish could hear the case. Everything was then conducted in English! We ran into these idiosyncrasies all the time and you learn to laugh at it all, in that funny way we English have. 

Linda then went on to tell us about what has happened to them since, the case been lodged in the British High Court, its decisions and the events leading up to the case going to the European Court of Justice and Human Rights and I would love to tell you it all if only I could read my notes! I am sure Linda tells it so much better, but needless to say she is full of praise for all the legal teams involved and the financial backers who have been their personal angels. However, I did get the main thrust of the case and how it affects all of us and many others European wide and jump to reporting that for the minutes.   

Because the case heard in the South Cyprus Court, found in favour of the former Greek owner of the land their property is built on and passed judgement which included a debt (the rent due on the land and compensation) the Orams are a debtor of a European Country. As such that debt can be set against any assets they hold in a European Country. As they still have a property in the UK, the South Cyprus courts applied to the UK courts for payment. They cannot enforce the judgement here (at the moment) as the TRNC is not recognised.  

There will be people out there who will think, this is not a problem for me, I do not have property in the UK – think again – do you have a pension, investments, stocks and shares, ISA’s?  When you die do you hope your estate will pass back to your heirs in the UK? These are all assets which any debt could be set against! 

The EC of J and HR is not like an ordinary court, there could be 13 to 37 judges ruling on this case, as the case has ramifications for most of displaced Europe it is likely to be the full sitting of 37 judges!  We have got to win, but we cannot win without support, for every one of us who has bought in good faith, there are people who have been uprooted due to war, who believe they have rights too. Claims could go back to the turn of the century! 

When the court finally sits on this matter (and that could be some 7 years from now) they will be in possession of the lobby papers from both sides of the argument.  Each side will get about 30 minutes to set out the main points of their arguments – written cases would have been presented to the judges prior to this. Your local MEP may get a chance to speak. Cases in the EC of J and HR are won and lost on effective lobbying, all the work is laid down years and months in advance, so we must stay focused and take our message where we can and speak to groups such as these and ask you for your support. 

It is important that as many people as possible, not only sign the petition that can be found on our website and many Bulletin Boards, but that you get everyone they know to do the same. Additionally you can write to your MEP and draw their attention to this case (again there is a template on the website you can download) we cannot do this on our own. Ask your families to support you and send of a letter to their local MEP, send them the template and ask them to take a couple of minutes to print it, sign it and get it in the post. Have a batch ready for your visitors to sign, take them to your darts nights, help us to publicise our mutual cause. Make this an ongoing cause, not a five minute wonder – this is going to dominate our lives for the next few years, that’s for sure. They say life changes every ten years but we could never have dreamt of these events coming to pass. 

Linda thanked everyone for listening. 

Marian thanked Linda for such an entertaining glimpse into the roller coaster ride that has been their lives for the past 3 years and reiterated that the petition and letter for your  MEP is on our website – if your neighbour does not have internet connection – print them a copy!  She called a 15 minute break and then opened the floor to questions. 

Q:        We have bought Eşdeğer land, we were assured this land was safe to buy, can we be caught up in this? 

A:         Yes, the only land not in dispute is Pre 74 International deeds, and Turkish Title Deed Land. We bought land which the owner was legally able to sell us. We bought in good faith. 

Q:        Two or three years ago, many of us joined Eupro, were they of any help to you in this matter?

A:         Yes, Donald Crawford was very knowledgeable and helped us with advice in the early days. As you are aware Eupro does have vast resources to help financially and I understand they no longer exist. I am sure the founders have followed our case closely and will be lobbying hard on this matter as individuals. 

Q:        Will the local TRNC papers be publishing the petition and for that matter the MEP letter, as many dual nationality, so that this campaign is carried to the local people?     

A:         Yes, it has been reported in the local papers. 

Q:        Do you think you might write a book on your experiences one day?

A:         I thought good books had to have an element of sex or a good murder mystery! 

Q:        Have you thought to put the petition on the Downing Street petition website to reach a wider audience?

A:         Yes, we will be exploring that avenue when we return to the UK. 

Q:        Has it been fully explained to you what will happen if you lose?

A:         Yes, we will be bankrupt and homeless. 

Q:        Could we sell everything in the UK now to avoid that possibility?

A:         You could, but you would have to sever everything and why should you, like us , you have done nothing wrong. 

Q:        Have you ever felt that the TRNC government is at fault? After all you abided by the laws of the TRNC.

A:         No, we have never felt that way. At the time we bought this country was in isolation as it had been for 30 odd years. The people here took logical decisions to enable them to move forward. Everyone acted in good faith.

 There being no further questions the meeting disbanded at 5.45.