Helena Smith: Widow stands to lose upwards of €50,000 after her profits from a house sale remain frozen in a bank on the island
Tragedy first struck Sharon Connor when her husband, Gary, was killed by a heart attack in January last year. He had just turned 54. From running a successful scuba-diving business on Cyprus, the mother-of-two found herself catapulted into a world of grief, unable to even visit the ornate, two-storey villa the couple had bought on the island.
"It took me five months before I could set foot in the place," said Connor, who was on her own when she found her husband dead in bed. "I still have flashbacks and see it in my head all the time."
In March the widow decided to put the property on the market. In the space of three days she had found a buyer, located a new home in the UK and a job outside London. "I was trying to move forward with my life," the 55-year-old told the Observer from Kent, "until I found myself caught up in the nightmare scenario that has befallen Cyprus".
This weekend the Briton faces the prospect of financial ruin following the shattering news that the proceeds from her house sale – €181,000 (£155,000) – will remain frozen in the Bank of Cyprus as a result of capital controls enforced to contain the crisis.
As the size of Cyprus's bailout requirements swelled from €17bn to €23bn, she learned that the money, deposited in a special account for the purposes of the transaction, could not be transferred to the UK. Now she lives in fear that, like other depositors with more than €100,000 in Cyprus, she will also fall victim to the raid on savings that the Cypriot government has been ordered to implement as the price of international aid.
"It is totally unfair. My funds should not be frozen, as they are not savings that have been accruing interest," said Connor, whose misfortune was that the money hit her account two hours before the close of business on 15 March.
"It was money from a real estate sale that was supposed to be in the bank for a single day. The same day it went in, I sent an email instructing the bank to transfer the funds – some of which were in euros and some in sterling – to the UK, but on Saturday morning the news broke that Cypriot banks were in major financial difficulty."
Ever since then Connor, who was due last week to buy a three-bedroom semi in Kent, has been battling to get her money released. She has written to "everyone who is anyone", including David Cameron and Angela Merkel, and started a Facebook campaign called "Gary and Sharon v Merkel".
"Every day is a struggle," said the widow, who is from Welling in south-east London. "I was set on moving on after Gary passed last year and had everything in motion when, overnight, my world was turned upside down again … it is a scenario that had made me physically ill."
Connor has calculated that she could lose €50,000 (£42,000) as a result of the emergency levy that Nicosia must now enact to qualify for financial assistance from the EU and the International Monetary Fund. Revelations that the beleaguered Cypriot government will have to find almost double the amount to meet the terms of the €10bn bailout – amid signs that the EU's wealthy north has tired of rescuing the bloc's heavily indebted south – have only sharpened her anguish. "Now I live in worry that with the latest news that Cyprus's bailout requirements are going to be much bigger than thought, depositors will suffer even more," she said.
Connor had hoped to be exempted from the levy – along with other special cases – but her appeal for dispensation was turned down by the island's central bank last week. On Friday she was told by the Bank of Cyprus that it was seeking clarification. "I asked my representative at the Bank of Cyprus to put forward my appeal to the central bank, and in turn they asked for the contract of sale and solicitors' details," she recalled. "Last week the central bank committee declined the request. I was also told that I cannot transfer any funds from my accounts to the UK."
In a cruel twist of fate, the sale was due to have been completed a week earlier. "A document was missing from the necessary paperwork that prevented the deal from being closed," she said. "Had the transaction gone through as originally planned, the funds would now be in my British bank account."
Connor, who also has five grandchildren, has now been forced to cash in her two private pension schemes to make ends meet. "I have my furniture in storage with no way of knowing when, or if, I can purchase my own property," she said. "The local council will not put me on their housing register as I have funds from the sale of a house in the bank, albeit I cannot access them."
Had it not been for the help of friends and family, she says, she might not have got through the ordeal. "If it was not for the goodness of my sister, Theresa, and other family members, I would be homeless," she said. "I live in hope that common sense will prevail and I will receive what is rightfully mine. This is money that my husband and I have accumulated and worked for our whole lives."
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