THE COURT REPORT
Christian Life Centre obtained fraudulent land title from NHC
The Christian Life Centre in Enga Province has been forced by the courts to forfeit a land title that it fraudulently acquired from the notoriously corrupt National Housing Corporation.
Pastor William Iki and the Christian Life Centre claimed they were the owners of a State Lease purchased from the NHC for a property in Wapenamanda, Enga Province, identified as Allotment 13, Section 10.
The National Court has instead though awarded the title to the the long-term occupant of a property, Janet Pepam Kepoli.
In his judgement, Justice Makail found the truthfulness of Pastor Iki in relation to how the Chrsitian Life Centre obtained its State Lease to be ‘doubtful’ due to a number of discrepancies in his evidence and a general lack of detail.
The court found that the Plaintiff, Janet Pepam Kepoli, had occupied the property since 1990. At that time it was ‘a vacant sloppy piece of land that was used as a rubbish dump in front of an AOG Church’.
The Church later changed its name to the Christian Life Centre.
The plaintiff was interested in purchasing the land. She was informed that it had been owned by the NHC since 1970. She duly attended the NHC office in Mount Hagen in December 1992 and paid a K500 fee to apply for the title.
In March 1994, Janet Pepam Kepoli signed a contract of sale with the NHC but heard nothing further from them until December 1998. She then signed a further contract of sale and paid a further K9,000 as fees and the purchase price.
The plaintiff proceeded to plant a fruit garden on the property with orange, avocado, mandarin and guava trees.
However, in September 2005, and unbeknown to the plaintiff, a gazette notice was published. It stated that the property was granted to the NHC pending sale. The property was then purportedly sold by the NHC to Pastor Iki.
Janet Pepam Kepoli was completely unaware of the sale until November 2005, when she received a letter from Pastor Iki and the Christian Life Centre instructing her to vacate the property.
The plaintiff instituted court proceedings to block her eviction and flew to Port Moresby to visit the NHC Head Office. After explaining her situation to an NHC conveyancing officer, the plaintiff was asked to return in two weeks so the matter could be looked into. When she returned, the plaintiff was told the office file for the property was missing.
That was the last she ever heard from the NHC.
At trial, the judge found the plaintiff had followed due to process to obtain title to the property
“She paid all applicable fees including the purchase price and signed not one, but two contracts of sale and all that was outstanding and required the NHC to complete is the issuance of the title to her”.
In contrast, the judge found there were a number of suspicious circumstances around the purported grant of a lease to Pastor Iki and the Christian Life Centre.
First, the lease was a residential lease rather than a mission lease which would have been the appropriate type of lease to grant to a church.
Second there was the ‘quite extraordinary and remarkable’ speed at which the defendants were able to start and complete the process for the sale and purchase of the property and have it registered. In all it took just four months from the application for the lease until the title was transferred, a period the judge said compared very unfavourably with the many years the plaintiff spent in trying to complete the sale.
Then there was the defendants admission of being aware of the plaintiff’s occupancy and use of the land over a long period of time.
“If there is any truth in the First and Second Defendants’ claim that the sale and purchase of the property between them and the Third Defendant was clean, they should have informed the Plaintiff of their interest in the property and expression of interest to purchase it.”
The judge also noted a crucial difference in the evidence given to the court by the parties. While the plaintiff’s evidence was ‘quite detailed and thorough’ in setting out the facts and her dealings with NHC, the evidence of Pastor Iki, said the judge, ‘was vague’.
For example, the Pastor did not tell the court who at the NHC the defendants application was submitted to, and the letter of application contained only a reference to a “Mr Paul A” without stating who he was. The Pastor also did not say he was unaware of the plaintiff’s prior application for the lease or how he came to know the property was being sold. He did not say where he signed the contract of sale or whether it was properly witnessed.
The judge concluded ‘having regard to all the circumstances, I am satisfied that fraud may be inferred and I so find’.
Having found that fraud had been proven, the judge quashed the title of the Christian Life Centre and ordered title to the property be transferred to the plaintiff, Janet Pepam Kepoli.
The Pastor, the Christian Life Centre and the National Housing Corporation were ordered to pay all the plaintiff’s legal costs.