Legal battle over Teariki’s estate

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The battle to determine the rightful owner of more than 200 acres of prime land in Apia has ended up in the Supreme Court. 

The disputing parties are claiming to be heirs of the late Teariki Apai from Rarotonga. The lands in question are occupied by churches and some prominent businesses in Matautu, Vaiala, Apia and the Sogi area.  

At the heart of the case is a dispute between the descendants of Fuimaono Lafoia and descendants of two women, Lili and Tiresa. 

The dispute turns on the relationship of those individuals to Teariki Apai who once held the land now in dispute. 

The plaintiff alleged that Fuimaono Lafoia succeeded to the land by virtue of his relation to Teraiki as Teariki’s son. They deny that Lili and Tiresa were Teariki’s sisters. 

The descendants also claim that the late Teariki was married to a woman name Fa’alua Aumeke who lived in Falefa with their children. As the descendants of Fuimaono Lafoia they say they are now entitled to the land. 

The respondents alleged that Teariki had no son and that Lili and Tiresa succeeded to the land as Teariki’s sisters. They say that as the descendants of Lili and Tiresa they are entitled to the land. 

Ms. Fuimaono and others who claim to be descendants of Teariki are represented in Court by Queens Counsel, Jane Anabel, Simon James and local lawyer, Ruby Drake. 

They say their connection to the late Teariki is through his son, Fuimaono Valeriano Lafoia Teariki. As direct descendants of Fuimaono Valeriano, they claim they are therefore the rightful owners of the land.

But that’s not the case, according to another party. 

Gafatasi Patu and lawyer Mele Hunter–Betham are heirs of Tiresa and Lili. Their claim is that the late Teariki had siblings who were Tiresa and Lili. Mrs. Betham is representing her side of the family. 

Semi Leung Wai is the lawyer for the third party, which is the Public of Trustee as the Administrator of the Estate of the late Patu Afaese Hunter. 

Justice Vui Clarence Nelson presided.

On Friday, an employee of the Office of Public Trust, Paniani Vaa told the Court although there were no copies of notices published in July 1958 in relation to the Estate of Teariki, he said he said there was a notice published on 18th July, 1958 on the Samoa Bulletin and Press News.

But Justice Vui questioned this, especially if there is no evidence of it to be found anywhere.

In response, Mr. Va’a said; “There were several correspondences confirming that this notice was published in 1958.

“These files are moved around from law firm to law firm and in other offices of government and estates involved in civil proceedings. We had some files missing and destroyed around that time.”

 Next to give evidence was Gafatasi Patu, 44-year-old of Vaiala. An employee of the Central Bank of Samoa, his father was the late Patu Afaese Hunter. He also confirmed that one of his siblings is Mele Hunter-Betham. 

In his evidence, Mr. Patu talked about one Rev. Fa’atauoloa Maualaivao, a church Minister serving the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa at Falefa. He recalled he had asked to meet Rev. Fa’atauoloa sometime in 2010 after he had read about a claim against his family land. 

“The claim was made by the plaintiff in this matter,” he remembered. “I wanted to understand how that claim came about because none of us understood how the plaintiff came about with this.  

 “I approached the Public Trust in 2010 and had a look at their statement of claim filed in 2009 and looked at one of the submissions to remove the caveat. In particular the affidavit of the late Gafatasi Mika Fuimaono whom was the original plaintiff in this matter. 

“In that affidavit it had a Court decision of Justice Lesatele attached to it on the removal of caveat.”

After reading the affidavit, he tried to figure out what the link was. 

“And I then concluded that the only link was a death certificate of (Fuimaono) Valeriano Lafoia. 

“The death certificate, which was attached to the affidavit of the late Gafataasi Mika Fuimaono it contained in it the name Teariki as that his father was Valeriano.”

When Mrs. Betham asked about the name Teariki, Mr. Patu responded it was his family. He explained his family are direct descendants of Tiresa and Teariki.

Going back to a meeting with Rev. Fa’atauloa, Mr. Patu pointed out there was a letter the church minister wrote about “Fuimaono Lafoia a.k.a Fui (who) died on September 29th, 1943.”

Mr. Patu said when he met with Rev. Fa’atauloa with Giovanni being present - he wanted to discuss with him the letter he had written. 

“I asked questions how he concluded that this person Fuimaono Lafoia died on September 29th 1943 as he stipulated,” said Mr. Patu. 

“He explained that the letter was extracted from the Api o Galuega Falefa (a book register) which records deaths of people of the church.”

According to Mr. Patu the entry in the book register namely the name Fui was used was not the same as what the letter that says Fuimaono Lafoia.  

 “He gave a long account of explanation if I recall correctly. He said the family came with lawyers and had went to Falefa to interview old women trying to find the death dates of this person,” said Mr. Patu. 

“Rev. Fa’atauloa made a general reference of the family to those who are living next door to his house. He said the reason why he wrote it like that is because he was pressured by the family and we then asked him to correct his register but he was reluctant.”

In cross-examination, Q.C. Jane Anabel asked Mr. Patu why he suggested that the family that Rev. Fa’atauloa made a general reference was Vavae and Gafatasi Mika Fuimaono. 

“The Reverend did not mention the names specifically,” said Anabel. 

“The people living next door are Mika and Sose Fuimaono.”

In response, Mr. Patu said, “it could be true and the presumption was made based on that Mika who is the plaintiff and (I) later discovered that people living next door are families of Vavae and Mika Fuimaono.” 

Q.C. Anabel then questioned why Mr. Patu had taken a police officer, Detective Gregory with him to see the village pastor in June 2001. 

Mr. Patu said he needed an independent person to look at the letter.

“Was it intended that a person such as yourself in taking the police officer is to pressure the church minister to retract what he had said?” asked Q.C. Anabel. 

Mr. Patu denied this.

 “I needed an independent person to come with me”. 

Anabel reminded Mr. Patu that he had asked the Minister to write another letter to the Births and Marriages Office to retract his earlier letter which “is not consistent with your earlier evidence.” 

 Mr. Patu insisted there was something wrong with the letter and it was only fair to ask him to put it in a letter. Anabel repeated that the Reverend refused to write the letter.

“In your affidavit he was pressured by the family to write the support letter,” said Anabel. “Now I put it to you that the pastor was not in fact pressured by family of the plaintiffs.”

Again Mr. Patu denied this.

Anabel then said that during the hearing the pastor attended the proceedings. 

“You were outside of Court when he arrived and you recognised him,” she explained. 

“Did you stop and talk to him?”

Mr. Patu said in the Samoan culture when one sees a ‘faifeau’ you greet him and I did that. 

“Did you say anything else to him?” he was asked. 

“I asked him where he was off to he said he was summoned and I said all the best and I wished him well because I feel sorry for him and I understand what he went through,” said Mr. Patu. 

Lawyer Anabel then asked if that was the reason why he took detective Gregor to see the church minister because he had intended to lodge a complaint with police. 

Mr. Patu said it was not correct. 

He repeated that he felt sorry for him and he understood the consequences of a conviction for an elderly minister. 

Anabel asked Mr. Patu if he had relayed it to the pastor when he went to see him or as it all in your mind? 

“There is no police complaint,” insisted Mr. Patu. 

“I was there to ask questions and I saw that the letter was different from the entry in the register and all I wanted is to correct the register.”

Anabel then put it to Mr. Patu that when he walked passed the minister “did you say to him in the effect do you understand what you are doing? 

“I put it to you, if anyone had pressured anyone, it was you that pressured the minister outside the Court,” said Anabel. 

“You as a solicitor understand that you should not interfere with a witness if he was to give evidence.”

Mr. Patu replied he did not know the minister was giving evidence until he shook his hand and asked him what he was doing at the Court. 

The last witness of the matter was an 83-year-old elderly man from Rarotonga, Tekeu Emil Framhein. 

Tekeu told the Court that his mother is Pepe and his grandmother was Lole. 

He said Lole’s mother is Tiresa and her father was a Hunter. 

“Teariki lived in Kiki in Rarotonga. He did not have a wife in Rarotonga and no children there. He died in August 1942…I was at the burial and my father made his coffin.”

Lawyer Mrs. Betham asked Tekeu if he recalled Teariki living anywhere other than Rarotonga. He replied that the young Teariki was born in Samoa. 

Mrs. Betham asked if this was the Teariki who was Tiresa’s brother. 

Tekeu said yes. 

The lawyer continued to ask Tekeu if Teariki had brought anyone with him when he came to Rarotonga. 

“He brought Lole who is Tiresa’s daughter and Teariki was the feeding father of Lole in our culture,” said Tekeu. 

“Feeding father is like adopted father. He didn’t have any children and took Lole as his child.”

Tekeu said Teariki is buried in the family cemetery in Kiki, Rarotonga.  

In cross-examination, Anabel asked Tekeu if he recalls being in correspondence with the Public Trustee in about the 1960s. 

He said yes. Tekeu said he had written a letter to the Public Trustee providing a death certificate of his grandmother Lole referring to the estate of Teariki as Tealik. 

“Tealik reference to Teariki and they wrote to me using that and I answered back as such. I also responded in an advertisement in 2001 about the Teariki estate.”

The matter which was set down for two weeks concluded earlier than expected with proceedings done in one week. 

Justice Vui then ordered the lawyers to make their submissions by Monday. 

However, Mr. Leung Wai made an application to adjourn the matter for another two weeks in order for him to compile his submission. 

Justice Vui did not accept the application reminding Mr. Leung Wai that the Q.Cs would have left the country by then. 

He then adjourned the matter until Monday for the lawyers to make their final submissions. 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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