The European Union's top court backed on Tuesday 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 to receive restitution from a British couple who built a holiday home on land he was forced to leave when Turkish troops invaded northern Cyprus in 1974.
After the Turkish occupation of the north, some 170,000 Greek Cypriots fled south, abandoning their properties. Many were distributed among Turkish Cypriots who subsequently sold them on to foreigners, mainly Britons.
The legally 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 couple Linda and David Orams were ordered to demolish their villa, built on land they had bought from Turkish Cypriots, and to pay compensation.
The land's original owner, Greek Cypriot Meledis Apostolides, took the case to a British appeals court so that the order would 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 court in Nicosia is applicable in the Turkish north. "The recognition and enforcement of the judgements of the Cypriot court cannot be refused in the United Kingdom," the EU court said.
The so-called Turkish Cypriot statelet in northern Cyprus is recognised by Turkey but not the rest of the international community, while the southern two thirds of the island is an EU member state.
The court said "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." "The fact that Mr Apostolides might encounter difficulties in having the judgements enforced cannot deprive them of their enforceability," it noted.