Sunday, 23 March 2014

Controversial businessman returns as head of North Cyprus Constructors Union

Cafer Gürcafer re-elected head of the TRNC’s Constructors Union

A businessman with a poor commercial track record has been voted back in as the head of the TRNC’s Constructors Union. Cafer Gürcafer beat Hasan Tosunoğlu by 115 votes to 89 to return to the post he vacated in August 2012 when he fled to South Cyprus following the collapse of several business ventures.

Over 90% of CU members cast their vote in elections last Sunday, which had been postponed a fortnight earlier as a result of furious objections to some of the candidates. Last week’s election results also determined the new CU executive board who will work alongside Gürcafer. These are: Meriç Erülkü, Ceyhun Tunalı, Kemal Aktunç, Redif Nurel, Halil Öncülay, and Yakup Tel.

News of Gürcafer’s reappointment has been met by considerable dismay in several quarters. Immediately below the news posted by on 15 March, Turgut Sunalp, added his own damning comment. He alleges he had successfully sued Gürcafer and another lady in 2007, with the court finding in his favour and awarding him £30,000 in compensation.

Claims of an arrest warrant out for Constructor's Union head Cafer Gürcafer

Sunalp continued: “We have not received a penny. Three weeks ago, we obtained a new court order for their arrest, but this gentleman and lady continue to roam free as a bird and for whatever reason they are not being arrested. Does Cyprus have any brave, honest police? Are you not ashamed to elect such a man as the chairman? Shame on all of you!”

Pauline Read, one of the Kulaksız victims
Talking to T-VINE, Pauline Read, one of the British victims of the Kulaksız property scandal, said Gürcafer’s re-election is: “Out with the old and in with the old. His very public promises to help Kulaksız on ADA TV were just self-publicity. He did nothing. His case in the Republic of Cyprus against Turkey and the alleged death threats just make him a joke and a very bad choice.”

Cafer Gürcafer became head of the CU following the Annan Plan referendum in 2004. At that time, there were some 60 firms specialising in construction. With the international community backing the Plan, which marked out the territory in North Cyprus that would remain in Turkish Cypriot control, many felt confident to invest in the unrecognised country, generating a massive property boom. The number of developers in the TRNC at one point was thought to have spiralled to some 800.

Without firm planning, implementation of regulations and legal accountability, many CU members repeatedly failed in their responsibilities to thousands of property buyers. Many developers were guilty of poor workmanship, while others were accused of fraudulently taking money without delivering completed homes or title deeds.

Some, such as the elderly buyers of the Kulaksız site in Girne, found that their developer had fraudulently taken out loans on homes they had already sold to finance other building projects. When the developer defaulted on loan payments, the bank sought to repossess their homes instead. The victims of Kulaksız are still fighting for their rights in the TRNC courts, some five years after the issue first came to light. Their plight was backed by the late former TRNC President, Rauf Denktaş.

TRNC property sales down 50% on boom years

Many victims and interest groups such as the Homebuyers Pressure Group lobbied the CU over the widespread problems in the construction sector. However, they claim they could not get any real commitment from Gürcafer to push for essential reforms or for him to drive action against those guilty of fraud or poor workmanship. Even where law suits were successful, there was no effort to enforce decisions.

As a result, overseas confidence in the TRNC property sector has plummeted, impacting massively on sales. According to one former CU board member, Bora Kutruza, sales are 50% lower than in 2009 – the year that the property boom period era drew to a close.

Gary Robb at the incomplete Amaranta Valley site in Girne
Even in companies where the authorities appointed Gürcafer to the board of directors to help resolve serious issues, the victims claim he failed them. One such case concerns Aga Development, headed by convicted criminal Gary Robb. He sold off-plan properties on several sites in Girne to some 250 buyers and allegedly received £1.5 million in sales before disappearing to Thailand. The developments were never completed and the Aga buyers have been unable to secure compensation or titles. Several have died as they wait for the TRNC authorities to find a solution.

"He had his chance to do the job, he failed. Give someone without his chequered past a chance"

In 2009, Robb was extradited to the UK and jailed for drug trafficking offenses. Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency brought civil recovery proceedings against him and was granted permission by the High Court to use his assets to refund victims. The Aga victims pressed Gürcafer to do the same in the TRNC. Although the authorities seized Robb’s assets, they have yet to follow suite in compensating victims. Gürcafer was also criticised for not demanding action against the Turkish Cypriot Aga directors who also profited handsomely from this failed venture.

Gürcafer completed his fall from grace when his own businesses, the Mimosa hotel and a floating casino-cum-cruise liner in the Eastern Mediterranean, went bust. In August 2012, he fled to South Cyprus and soon after started legal proceedings against Turkey, claiming he had been duped into developing land he was not aware was formerly owned by Greek Cypriots – an offense in South Cyprus.

The case was a major embarrassment for the CU and the TRNC authorities, who have long championed their right to develop land abandoned by Greek Cypriot refugees, pointing to similar development of Turkish Cypriot refugee land in South Cyprus.

Pauline Read said, “Why was he even allowed to throw his hat into the ring?  He has as much chance of resurrecting the building industry as I have of winning the lottery and I have stopped buying tickets.  He had his chance to do the job, he failed. Give someone without his chequered past a chance.”

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