Recently, on 8 April 2020, a judgment was issued by the Supreme Court in relation to the succession of the estate of a person who had passed away 28 years ago and whose death had given cause to judicial proceedings both in Cyprus and abroad. The judgment given was in relation to a civil action filed 21 years ago. The interesting aspect about the succession to this person’s estate was the position held by the government of Pakistan that since he had passed away without any heirs on the basis of a claim of bona vacantia the rightful heir to his estate was in fact the state of Pakistan.
However, there were also two other claimants who claimed to be related by blood to the deceased. Furthermore, the Attorney General of Cyprus, who on the basis of a Court order had been appointed as a temporary administrator of the estate of the deceased, was also added as a party to the action.
The position of the state of Pakistan and the two persons claiming to be blood relatives of the deceased was that the domicile of the deceased upon his death was his domicile of origin, which was Pakistan. However, the position of the Attorney General of Cyprus was that the domicile of the deceased at the time of his death was Cyprus. Thus, if the former position was correct, Pakistan was going to inherit the estate of the deceased. Whereas, if the latter position was correct then Cyprus was to inherit the entire estate of the deceased.
The Court of first instance rejected the claim of the two blood relative claimants and also decided that the domicile of the deceased at the time of his death was Cyprus and so since not only had he died intestate (i.e. without a will) but also there was no person of kin to the deceased within the sixth degree of kindred alive at the time of his death, then the government of Cyprus was to inherit the entire estate.
As part of the appeal against the judgment of the Court of First Instance it was disputed that the deceased actually did choose Cyprus as his domicile of choice. The two claimants, claiming to be blood relatives to the deceased also based their claim on judgments issued in favour of one of them by courts in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain while simultaneously claiming that the domicile of the deceased was in Saudi Arabia.
Amongst the issues examined by the Supreme Court was the domicile of the deceased at the time of his death. This was a crucial question as to the law that would be applicable in relation to the succession of the deceased. The legal aspect of how a person may acquire a domicile of choice was examined and on the basis of this analysis the Supreme Court disagreed with the conclusion of the Court of First Instance that the deceased had acquired a domicile of choice in Cyprus.
As the Supreme Court overturned the first instance judgment on this matter and had, in fact, reached its own conclusion that the deceased had retained his domicile of origin (i.e. of Pakistan), one would also expect its overall conclusion to differ from that of the Court of First Instance, however, in practical terms the actual result turned out to be the same.
The Supreme Court referred to the rule that foreign law has to be proved as a matter of fact whereas if this is not included in the pleadings and subsequently not proved in evidence during the hearing of an action, then in the absence of any evidence to the contrary it is considered to be the same as local law. On the basis of this law, under the circumstances of the case, the claim of a foreign government in property situated in Cyprus would fail.
Thus, the claim of the state of Pakistan was rejected in favour of that of the state of Cyprus which ended up as the rightful owner of the property of the deceased since such property was deemed to be bona vacantia, that is to say property of a deceased person who had passed away without a will or rightful heirs.
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