Lawyers battle out land dispute

By Lanuola Tupufia – Ah Tong ,

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The lawyers representing the parties in the fight over the estate of the late Teariki Apai of Rarotonga submitted their final submissions in the hearing last week.

The parties are battling to determine the rightful owners of the late Teariki Apai’s estate of more than 200 acres of prime land in Apia. At the moment, the land is occupied by churches and some prominent businesses in Matautu, Vaiala, Apia and the Sogi area.  

Queens Counsel, Jane Anabel, Simon James and local lawyer Ruby Drake are representing the descendants of Fuimaono Lafoia. 

The lawyer for the descendants of Lili and Tiresa is Mele Hunter – Betham. 

Semi Leung Wai is the lawyer for the Public Trustee as the Administrator of the estate of the late Patu Afaese Hunter. 

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

The plaintiff alleges 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 named 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. 

Justice Vui Clarence Nelson presided the matter. 

 In her final submission, Mrs. Betham argued that a family book presented as evidence for the descendants of Lafoia is questionable. 

She told the Court that Book B referred to Teliki from Rarotonga instead of Teariki and that no one had heard of it until recently when it surfaced. 

Justice Vui asked the lawyer who should the family had presented the Book to. 

He also made comments about how the Court can draw inference that Teliki refers to Teariki. 

In response, Mrs. Betham told the Judge that it would be dangerous for the Court to draw such inference. 

She added that the family could have presented the Book to the Public Trustee but it had suddenly surfaced. 

“We submit that the book never came into light before because it never existed.” 

Again, Justice Vui reminded the lawyer that she had not put it to the witnesses that the book was an implication. 

“You cannot just stand there and make a submission when you didn’t ask the question,” he said.  About the name Teariki and Teliki, Justice Vui pointed out that we are Samoans and we all know we interchange R with letter L. 

“It’s so common that it doesn’t require a proposition,” he said. 

“We do it. It’s part of our custom.”

 Moving on to another issue, Mrs. Betham raised the point of Fuimaono Lafoia being a “legal issue” of the late Teariki Apai and Fa’alua Aumeke. 

She made reference to the 1908 Administration Act that the third party needs to be a legal issue of the marriage. 

“Therefore your Honor there is no evidence provided to establish that Valeriano Lafoia was a legal issue as a result of a marriage of Teariki,” said Mrs. Betham. 

She used the Stowers and Stowers 2012 case to draw similarity to the current case. 

Mrs. Betham explained that the Court of Appeal ruled on the basis that because they pair were not married “therefore the children of that union were not interstate issue for the purpose of the legislation and therefore will not receive share of the state.”

Justice Vui reminded that the Court has not ruled in that case and is still open. 

Again, Mrs. Betham reiterated that she relies of her submission that if the plaintiff is successful they will still not be able to inherit the state.  

She argued that it has taken more than 60 years for the plaintiff to file their claim. 

Justice Vui pointed out that the descendants of Fuimaono did go to the Public Estate where they had rejected their claim. 

He also stressed that the Trust did not settle all of the estate. 

However, Anabel representing the plaintiff submitted that there was sufficient evidence from family history that Lafoia was the son of Teariki. 

She reiterated that Lafoia is more probable than not that he is the son of Teariki. 

Another document she made reference to is a baptism certificate of the late Teariki Apai stating that the deceased was born in Rarotonga in 1852. 

She said there was evidence that he had lived in Samoa and the will of Apai in relation to Samoan land. 

Anabel gathered that in the evidence of Tekeu Emil Framhein it was clear that Teariki left Rarotonga and was in Samoa. 

She pointed out that Tekeu said Teariki had no children and wife in Rarotonga.

“Lafoia regarded himself as the son of Teariki,” she said. 

“Lafoia was accepted by his community as the son of Teariki and others teased him of his Cook Island heritage.” 

The Q.C. also touched on the genealogy book that was used as evidence.

She said the books was family history passed from their descendants and it was reliable evidence.  

Moving on to lands, Anabel said while the estate was distributed amongst beneficiaries the Lelepa land remains in estate. 

She pointed out that another third party that is outside of proceedings hold some of the lands being transferred. 

Anabel argued that beneficiaries should not be building on the land because it does not belong to them. 

Another estate of Teariki is land at the Apia Park held by a third party whom is also members of the family, said Anabel. 

 Justice Vui adjourned the matter until next year for his decision. 

© Samoa Observer 2016

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