Samoan family wants resolution of 13 old year legal battle
A Samoan New Zealand family is demanding that a decision be made on a land transfer that went to court in Apia 13 years ago.
A Samoan family in New Zealand is furious at the lack of progress on a legal case that went to the Supreme Court 13 years ago.
A now elderly and unwell woman, Kirita Maria Kolotita Pune, of Auckland, NewKirita Pune, and her family, in 2003 went to court in Samoa to contest the transfer of title made by her elderly father 8 years earlier.
She contends that her then bed ridden, blind and senile father was not able to make a decision, without legal advice, to transfer the titles of the land in Apia to her brother.
Mrs Pune contends the transfer of land now thought to be worth several million dollars was fraudulent.
The brother and father have been dead for many years and the land has since changed hands and been developed further.
But Mrs Pune is still to hear about the outcome of her 2003 legal case, although she received a brief note from the Supreme Court two years ago with an interim decision saying the matter was fraudulent but the court wasn't ready to make a declaration.
The case has been taken up by Mrs Pune's daughter, Clara, who has also run into issues with lawyers in Samoa, who she is suing separately.
For the past two years she has had Auckland based lawyer, Leuluaiali'i Olinda Woodroffe, in her corner and she explained more about this complex case to Don Wiseman.
OLINDA WOODROFFE: The dispute is that the old man that you are speaking about, was over 90 at the time, his son who was a member of parliament appeared to have somehow got father to sign a document that gave him the right to the parents property. And the old man had a daughter who is now my client. The daughter is well over 70 and quite ill in New Zealand.
DON WISEMAN: What we are talking about here is the deed of conveyance is that right?
OW: Yes it is more than the deed of conveyance. It is the fact how can a man who was critically ill at the time, 91 years old, how could he sign documents without legal advice or without somebody with medical knowledge to advise whether he had full mental capacity. There was a lot of issuing regarding the signing over to the MP. And what he did is he used the Deed to finance a business.
DW: It is not just any land is it? It is two very interesting pockets of highly valuable commercial land, in Apia, worth together several millions of dollars.
OW: Yes that is right.
DW: In 2003 the mother took her brother took court in Apia and ever since the family has been waiting for a decision on what is essentially a question over fathers will in the end isn't it because he died soon after.
OW: Yes that is right.
DW: And there hasn't been a decision it is now thirteen years until I think you came on as the lawyer as you say just two years ago and soon after that you received an interim decision from the supreme court justice saying that there was some fraudulent activity involved but he wasn't taking it further at that stage because he was looking at some other matters to do with mortgages on the properties and another two years have passed and nothing has happened. It is a real mystery isn't it?
OW: Yes it is a mystery and yes you were correct in your statement earlier. This involved to very very expensive pieces of freehold land, not traditional land, and one is right in the midst of Apia of the town so it is a very valuable piece of land and that is the land that was ultimately sold by a law firm who were acting for one of the companies or people who were dealing with the men who borrowed the money. You know the brother. But suffice to say yes I came in 2014 I took every step that was possible to ask his honour chief justice for a decision because I wanted to focus the family had already spent a lot of money on lawyers. I wanted to focus my drive into getting finality. I ask his honour if there is a decision and if it is not perhaps it might be appropriate for your honor to recuse yourself because I needed finality for this women and she is not well and she is well in her 70s.
DW: Why should he recuse himself?
OW: Because every time I ask the question in the court I don't get what I am seeking. I normally put a memorandum in the same as I do with the high court in New Zealand but I have never had a satisfactory response. So in the end I thought well if his honour was not doing his duty it may be appropriate that he recuse himself and get somebody else to look at the situation. I cannot just continually use a client's money to keep making memorandums with no result.
DW: Clearly that didn't work because you got effectively ordered out of Samoa didn't you? Although you are effectively Samoan and you have been admitted to the Samoan Bar as well as the New Zealand Bar but they say that you cannot practice there at least on this case. What do you make of all of that?
OW: Well suddenly now I have lost my right to citizenship under the constitution of the country, and suffice to say I will not back off because nobody will take away my right. But the point is that the Law Society then passed the law to classify me as a non-resident person. Even though I am a citizen of the country and even though I have actually practised law in Samoa for 21 years and I have personal properties there.
DW: But you are not resident are you?
OW: It depends on what is the definition of resident. Resident in the legal act is actually I qualify and I have sought opinions of two queen's councils in New Zealand their interpretation of residence and mine fit the mould. I shouldn't be treated like an outsider.
DW: We have had this 13 year delay on what sounds like it should have been an easy decision to make coloured by the fact that there was very large amounts of money involved.
DW: No decision in 13 years. What is going on?
OW: Can you answer that question? I certainly can't because there is an issue that there was a member of parliament was the party that was sued by the lady that I now act for that could be something to do with that. It was a government organisation that lent the MP some money. So is it something to do with that? I also then found there is a ministry of the Samoa government where I found that, in my opinion, used the wrong part of the law to actually pursue the selling of the property decide the fact that there was a court order not to sell the properties in the interim. So, there are a lot of questions, unanswered questions, with this case.
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