Land survey official held over suspected expropriation scam

A LAND Survey Department official and a businessman, both from Nicosia, were yesterday remanded in custody for eight days in connection with a suspected land expropriation scam.

The 50-year old Land Survey official is thought to have masterminded an operation, which saw the government paying twice for expropriated land, by altering dates of payment in Land Survey Department records, aided by his suspected accomplice, the 58-year old businessman.

The scam was foiled after a landowner reported that he had been compensated for his expropriated land in 1992, and not in 1998 as was stated on his title deed. The department employee dealing with the case reported the incident to his superiors, who in turn notified CID.

Further investigation showed that the records had been tippexed over. The department immediately suspended the official believed to be responsible, who was later arrested and yesterday remanded in custody together with his accomplice.

In a statement yesterday, Interior Minister Andreas Panayiotou said irregularities had been found after an investigation carried out in Land Survey Department records.

“An internal audit was carried out yesterday in which certain irregularities were discovered at the District Land Registry Department,” Panayiotou said, adding that files had not been updated and unauthorised payments had been ordered.

“Certain book numbers were altered, which had to do with compensation regarding expropriated land,” he said.

“For instance, when an estimate was given for compensation due to expropriation, five years later another cheque was issued for the same estimate.”

Panayiotou said the embezzled amount was approximately £4,000, adding there seemed to be further cases that he would not comment on before further investigation was carried out.

The Interior Minister did not rule out the possibility that more people might be involved in the scam.

“We just do not have evidence that will allow us to suspend other officials,” he said.

Asked if such a scam could have been avoided had there been a computerised booking system in the Land Survey Department, Panayiotou agreed computer records were essential, adding hastened discussions were being carried out in order to have the Land Survey Department computerised by 2005.