Euro court orders Turkey to pay 5 million euros to two Greek citizens in inheritance case

Euro court orders Turkey to pay 5 million euros to two Greek citizens in inheritance case

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) today announced its final ruling on a case regarding two Greek citizens who wanted to inherit their sister’s immovable property in Turkey but were denied.

The court ordered Turkey to pay the applicants, Ioannis Fokas and Evangelos Fokas, 5 million euros in pecuniary and non-pecuniary damage jointly, and 15,000 euros in costs and expenses, jointly.

The case concerned the applicants’ inability as Greek citizens to inherit their sister’s immovable property in Turkey on account of their nationality and of the principle of reciprocity between Greece and Turkey.

In its principal judgment of Sept. 29, 2009, the ECHR held that there had been a violation of Article 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, protection of property. Today’s judgment concerned the question of just satisfaction.

The case concerned the application of the heirs of Polikseni Foka, who was a Greek national born in 1943 and was adopted by Apostolos Pistikas and his wife Elisavet Pistika, who were both Turkish nationals of Greek origin, in 1954.

On July 3, 1987, an Istanbul court decided that the total of the property of the parents, who had died, would be transferred by way of inheritance to Foka. The property comprised three buildings in Istanbul and income from rent, deposits and valuable deeds.

On July 31, 1996, the Turkish authorities filed an application for the annulment of the decision by which Foka had inherited the above-mentioned property. This was due to local laws and regulations, according to which a naturalized person holding Greek nationality has no right to inherit in Turkey, and also because the Greek Government applied similar provisions to persons of Turkish origin living in Greece.

On Nov. 27, 1997, an Istanbul court annulled the decision on inheritance, although Foka had already paid the inheritance tax which was due to the state. An appeal to the ruling was rejected by the top appeals court on Feb. 2, 1998. As a result, the immovable property was transferred to the Treasury.

On April 24, 2000, Foka died in Istanbul while she was under guardianship and confined in an institution due to psychiatric illness. On Sept. 26, 2000 the applicants, who are the sole heirs to the property of their sister, filed a petition with an Istanbul court for the issuance of a certificate of inheritance.

On April 19, 2001, the court dismissed the applicants’ request to inherit their sister’s immovable property, but accepted it in respect of the movable property. In its decision, the court took into account the Ministry of Justice’s opinion concerning the practice of the Greek authorities in respect of the inheritance rights of the Turkish minority in Greece. The court held that the applicants were not entitled to the right of inheritance for immovable property in Turkey on account of their nationality and in view of the principle of reciprocity between Greece and Turkey. The applicants appealed against this judgment, but the Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.

In its principal ruling in 2009, the ECHR “found that, unlike the national courts’ conclusions based on the report of the Ministry of Justice, Turkish nationals could inherit immovable property in Greece, including in regions where restrictions were imposed by the Law of 1990 concerning the purchase and sale of immovable property.”

The ECHR also found that there was no legal obstacle preventing Greek nationals from acquiring immovable property in Turkey “since the Council of Ministers had issued a decree in 1988 abolishing the decree dated Nov. 2, 1964 that had prohibited the acquisition of immovable property by Greek nationals.”

“Article 35 of the Law on Land Registry had also been modified with a view to allowing non-nationals to inherit immovable property in Turkey. The court thus concluded that the applicants, whose lineage had been established with the deceased, could legitimately have believed that they had satisfied all the conditions for inheriting immovable property, as was the case in respect to the movable property,” the ECHR said in the ruling dated Sept. 29, 2009.