People who bought property from a real estate developer in Girne in the TRNC may have fallen victim to title deed fraud, it has emerged, as a prominent local businessman was accused of falsifying dozens of documents.
Investment İnşaat Ltd director and founder Mehmet Eminoğlu and Serdar Özbekoğlu, a certifying officer, were both remanded in custody by Girne District Court for a further seven days on Friday, 16 August, following their arrests in July.
Detectives had asked for more time to investigate complaints from a growing list of investors, said to be mainly from Turkey, that they had been swindled.
The pair are accused of forging signatures on documents that were then passed to staff at the Girne office of the Land Registry (Tapu Dairesi), media reports said. Properties were transferred to a company called Yaztech Investment Ltd without the original purchasers’ knowledge, it was claimed.
The alleged scam first came to light last month when a lawyer named as Gizem Aksu complained to Turkish Cypriot police that two apartments she had bought from Mr Eminoğlu had been signed over to Yaztech Investment using fake documents. Mr Özbekoğlu, who is also the head of the Girne branch of the National Unity Party (UBP), the main partner in the coalition government, is accused of certifying the forged documents.
Architect Muammer Uğursöz, said to be the director of Yaztech Investment, was also arrested on charges of making a false statement to police after initially claiming that he had paid Mr Eminoğlu 600,000TL for the two flats.
A total of 44 “fake” power of attorney letters were discovered by police, as well as 19 apartments & 4 shops whose title deeds had been fraudulently transferred
Sixteen flats worth a combined total of £1.7 million had been signed over to Mr Uğursöz’s firm using fake documents, a report in the TRNC daily Kıbrıs said, but detectives were only able to trace £112,000 that had been paid out from its accounts. Mr Uğursöz “was unable to explain to police” how the 16 properties came into his possession, the paper said.
Giving evidence at a hearing at Girne District Court, police officer Halil Drangoz said that he and his colleagues had identified, in all, 19 apartments and four shops whose title deeds had been fraudulently transferred.
A total of 44 “fake” power of attorney letters were discovered by police, the court heard, including those found on a computer belonging to Mr Eminoğlu, who also owns property firm M.Eminoglu Investment.
Complaints have so far been received from at least 18 individuals, Drangoz told the court, warning that he expected more to come forward. Three other suspects wanted in connection with the alleged fraud have “escaped overseas”, the police officer added.
Meanwhile two members of staff from the Land Registry office in Girne – Türkan Dayı and Vedia Vaizoğlu – have been released on bail pending trial. A third employee arrested, Özlem Akdağ, was later released without charge after police said she was not connected to the case.
Girne Land Registry staff walked out in protest following their colleagues’ detention and then held a half-day strike a week later on Thursday, 15 August.
Reading out a statement İzzet Türkmen, head of the Hak-Sen trade union, said that while he had “no intention” of trying to influence the ongoing court case, it had highlighted the need for an overhaul of the title deed system and the need to recruit more staff.
“Following this incident, we are sure that all [Land Registry] employees will now experience uneasiness as they handle hundreds of documents every day,” he said.
“This will lead to [property transactions] taking longer, and could even cause systemic chaos.”
Main photo, top, of businessmen Mehmet Eminoğlu (centre) and Serdar Özbekoğlu (left) arrested on suspicion of property fraud