The long road to justice

Conor O’Dwyer is nothing if not tenacious. The British man has fought a 15-year battle with Cyprus’ justice system

“Unfortunately, I don’t think I will ever be able to live in Cyprus, not after what’s happened to me,” Conor O’Dwyer told the Sunday Mail this week.

“It breaks my heart because this country was the one where me and my family chose to build the house of our dreams. How can I see a future here after what I had to go through?”

It is a sad but completely legitimate question posed by the British man who bought a property in the Famagusta district back in 2005. The dream ended in a bitter legal dispute when the developer resold his house to another British family at a higher price.

Into the mix came two assault cases brought against the developers when O’Dwyer fought his corner, insisting the house was his. The ensuing legal battles brought O’Dwyer face to face with Cyprus’ justice system whose wheels grind notoriously slowly. According to O’Dwyer, it is also stacked against foreigners.

Fifteen years after the fight for his house began, O’Dwyer this week appeared before the supreme court in Nicosia, which was finally hearing his appeal into the 2012 verdict of the case filed by developer company Christoforos Karayiannas and Son Ltd, who accused him of breach of contract and of defamation, after O’Dwyer called them “liars” on his blog, called “Beyond Contempt”.

“Before buying the house in 2005, my wife and I were doing really well in life,” O’Dwyer said.

“Cyprus has always been my and my family’s holiday destination, we came to the island many times and I even served time in the military here,”

Cyprus had joined the EU in 2004 and this, combined with the property boom at the time, persuaded the family to buy a house here.

“It was a great opportunity for us. Even if things weren’t going to work out, we could always sell it at a terrific price, considering the property boom at that time,” O’Dwyer says.

“We were cash buyers, we would have lived here with no mortgage and, according to the contract we signed at the time, I would have had my title deeds within three years. It was the ideal situation. I had no doubts that buying a house in a EU country would present no challenges.”

However, shortly after depositing the contract for the house at the land registry, O’Dwyer started to disagree with the developers over some alleged changes they had made to the plans, some of which he claimed breached the contract and others were misrepresentations at the point of sale.

At this stage, the property was midway through construction and he had already paid €113,000 to the developers.

That’s when O’Dwyer decided to start a blog and tell the story behind the problems he was facing. Within a week of starting the blog, he claims he was assaulted for the first time and decided to close it down.

“It was crazy, I never expected such a thing to happen. The website stayed down for a whole year after the incident.”

He pressed charges for the assault.

In February 2007, O’Dwyer then discovered that his house had been sold at a higher price to another British woman, who had already taken up residence in the now-completed house, despite his contract still in the land registry.

The higher price was reflective of the property boom at the time but his money was never returned.

O’Dwyer decided to re-open his blog, which triggered another serious incident in 2008.

“I was assaulted for the second time, and it was even worse than the first time. I had returned to Cyprus in January 2008 for meetings and to take photos of my house for the civil action.

“Christoforos Karayiannas and his son were alerted to my presence in the village and at the busy junction and in front of dozens of witnesses rammed my car and together with an employee, the three men assaulted me again.”

O’Dwyer was hospitalised for five days and pressed charges again.

After returning to the UK, in August 2008 O’Dwyer decided to camp outside the Cyprus High Commission in London for two months. Thus began his one-man battle to highlight what he came to believe were the perils awaiting foreigners buying property in Cyprus.

“I did that for two reasons. I wanted to get attention after I was assaulted for the second time and I wanted to warn people interested in buying property in Cyprus of the potential risks they might have faced.”

O’Dwyer eventually ended his protest in October 2008 on the promise that his court case would be heard in January 2009.

The developers walked free for the first assault after the prosecutor failed to call O’Dwyer to court and the case was discontinued in his absence.

The developers and their employee were then found guilty for the second assault, but were given a suspended sentence, after a two-year court battle.

The developers then sued O’Dwyer for breach of contract and defamation for what he had written on his blog.

O’Dwyer and his lawyers made a counterclaim for breach of contract.

In 2012, the Larnaca district court ruled that O’Dwyer had not breached any contract and that Karayiannas had unlawfully cancelled it and retained his money. It was also ruled that the house was sold again without his knowledge. However, the court failed to award him any damages.

Instead the court went on to fine O’Dwyer a national record for defamation of €50,000.

“I made 64 flights back and forth from UK to Cyprus to attend lower courts, an absurdity! I spent an absolute fortune. On top of that, it took two years to process my second assault case.”

O’Dwyer said there are striking similarities in the way his case was handled with false rape claim trial of the British woman in Ayia Napa at the end of 2019 which has received such criticism in the British press.

“Firstly, the length of both trials was excruciating. Neither of the two cases needed that much time to be processed, it’s unacceptable.

“Secondly, I can see that in both cases there was a clear victimisation of foreigners, I think it’s a sadly common practice in Cyprus.

“I was the victim of a crime and, somehow, I ended up having to appeal to the supreme court and defend myself. At the same time, the people who assaulted me were found guilty, but were both handed suspended sentences. How is this justice?”

O’Dwyer’s lawyer Yiannos Georgiades claims his client’s case could eventually prove to be useful for the Cypriot justice system.

“I am firmly convinced Conor is doing a favour to our country,” he told the Sunday Mail.

“It motivates us to stand up to those people who give a bad name to our country. It makes us fight for what’s right.

“Conor came here to pursue his dreams, because he loves this country. He did not come here to fight. It’s not him who is making Cyprus look bad.

“Every person who comes here should be treated with respect and have the utmost trust in our justice system. We have the right to protect those who come and invest in our country, just like Conor was planning to do.”

So does O’Dwyer feel he will finally receive justice at the supreme court?

“I hope that they will rule in a way that will allow me to close this horrible chapter of my life. If not, I am fully prepared to take the matter to the European Court of Human Rights.”

He insisted his battle is not just for the benefit of foreigners.

“I want to make things better for everyone in Cyprus, a country that I love, but where, unfortunately, I will never be able to live.”

By Jonathan Shkurko | Cyprus Mail | January 26, 2020

See the original article on the Cyprus Mail with comments from the ex-pat community