Officials in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office regularly brief me on the scale of property problems in Cyprus and the distressing impact it is having on individuals. Most cases of mis-selling relate to purchases that were made between 2005 and 2010. Many purchasers and investors were advised to take out mortgages in Swiss Francs. As the Swiss Franc strengthened the cost of loans rose. Those affected complain that they were not properly advised that interest rates and exchange rates could rise which would affect the cost of their mortgage over time. We are also aware of allegations that lawyers and property professionals were working collectively and against the best interests of foreign buyers.
The British Government has no authority to intervene in matters concerning Cypriot domestic legislation. However, we continue to work with the Cypriot government to assist in finding resolutions to problems related to property purchases in Cyprus. This has included organising working visits to the UK for staff from the Cypriot Land Registry and the Financial Ombudsman. The High Commission is involved in assisting with public sector reform - specifically with the Ministry of Justice and local government – which will ultimately impact on the way property issues are dealt with.
Although we cannot intervene in individual cases, we do raise wider property problems by lobbying at high level. Both the Leader of the House of Commons and First Secretary of State, my Rt Hon Friend the Member for Richmond (Yorks) (Mr Hague), and I have raised property issues experienced by British nationals with the Cypriot Foreign Minister, Ioannis Kasoulides. Most recently I raised the subject with Mr Kasoulides on 23 July and Cyprus property mis-selling was raised in the UK Parliament on 22 July. The All Party Parliamentary Group for the Defence of the Interests of British Property Owners in Cyprus also met and discussed the issue on 14 October. Our former and current High Commissioners in Cyprus have regularly raised property issues with the Cypriot Attorney-General and the Finance Minister.
Our lobbying is having an effect. The Cypriot government has set up a Ministerial Committee to look at addressing property issues. This is a positive step and we are working with the authorities to encourage the committee to take effective action.
We recognise the significant impact that property disputes has on many families in the UK, some of whom risk losing their life savings. We strongly believe that those affected should continue to pursue their cases through the Cypriot (and if appropriate the UK) courts though we recognise that for many this will be an expensive and protracted route. In parallel we remain committed to lobbying at high level to encourage the Cypriot government to take effective action to resolve existing problems and to reform the property sector to prevent such problems occurring in the future.