Cypriot Lawyer Arrested on Charges of Fraud and Money Laundering Linked to Sale of Disputed Greek Cypriot Property

NICOSIA, Cyprus — A Turkish Cypriot lawyer, Akan Kürşat, has been granted bail by a court in the Republic of Cyprus after pleading not guilty to charges of fraud and money laundering. The charges are related to the sale of disputed Greek Cypriot property to foreigners in northern Cyprus. The release of Kürşat on bail comes after his extradition from Italy, where he was arrested on New Year’s Eve.

The lawyer is accused of providing legal counsel to Gary Robb, a British national who was convicted of fraud in 2011 and embezzlement in 2015 for selling Greek Cypriot properties in the northern part of Cyprus. The court released Kürşat on bail after he pledged a €75,000 ($80,685) bond.

The property issue is a deeply political matter on the divided island. The Turkish military took control of the island’s north in response to a Greek-backed coup in 1974, displacing Greek Cypriot owners of properties in the region. The breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey, governs the north, while the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus controls the south.

The ownership of Greek Cypriot properties in the north was transferred to the state under the breakaway Turkish Cypriot part of the island’s 1985 constitution. However, the exploitation of these properties is considered illegal in the Republic of Cyprus. Consequently, the properties are priced cheaper due to the legal uncertainty surrounding them.

Kürşat, who holds Republic of Cyprus citizenship, is the first Turkish Cypriot to be arrested on property appropriation-related charges and is now being tried at the Nicosia District Court.

Opposition figures in the Turkish Cypriot administration have criticized the charges against Kürşat, describing them as an attempt to gain political advantage over the property issue. They argue that the necessary measures to prevent such problems were not taken.

Foreign buyers, particularly Russians, have contributed to the recent boom in the property market in northern Cyprus. The influx of Russians has been facilitated by the fact that local banks in the region are not part of the international Swift system and operate through Turkey, which does not enforce Western sanctions on Russia. Concerns about money laundering through property purchases have arisen due to the flow of money from foreign buyers.

To tackle this issue, the Turkish Cypriot administration passed a new anti-money laundering law in December. The law includes measures such as requiring lawyers to disclose beneficial owners of properties owned by trusts within 30 days.

Greek Cypriot officials have also signaled an increased focus on addressing the sale of Greek Cypriot properties in the north. The president of the Republic of Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides, has emphasized that the effort to bring to justice all individuals involved in the usurpation of Greek Cypriot properties will not cease under any circumstances. Greek Cypriot authorities are also looking into the involvement of Greek Cypriot entrepreneurs and lawyers.

The arrest of Kürşat in Italy raises questions about the timing, as the Republic of Cyprus had issued the warrant for his arrest in 2007 but later renewed his passport.

The case of Kürşat highlights the complexities and contentiousness surrounding the property issue in Cyprus, which remains a significant obstacle in the ongoing efforts to find a political solution to the Cyprus problem.