Land Court finds Lord Nuku and mining company were trespassing

    The Land Court has ordered Lord Nuku and a Chinese mining company to pay the current Lord Luani TP$5,556,000 in compensation for a dispute over a block of land in Malapo.

    The penalty will attract interest at the rate of 10 percent until it is paid.

    The dispute involved the exploitation of two blocks of land which were part of Lord Luani’s hereditary estate, by Lord Nuku and two Chinese companies, Yan Jian Group Co Ltd and Yan Jian Tonga Ltd.

    In his report on the case, Mr Justice Scott said that in 2009 the Government of Tonga embarked on a major roads improvement scheme with the aid of the Chinese Government.

    The principal contractor was Yan Jian Group Co Ltd.  Substantial quantities of rock and crushed coral were required for the project and it appears that Lord Nuku, who was a member  of  the Cabinet, undertook to assist to source these materials.

    In 2009 and early 2010 Lord Nuku  met  the  late  Lord  Luani, who   was then the Governor of Vava’u,  on several occasions. In late March that year Island Quarry applied for a 10 year lease of four acres, known as Lot 90.

    Lord Luani  and  Lord  Nuku  agreed  to apply for Cabinet’s approval for the lease and Lord Nuku paid the  late Lord Luani TP$30,000.

    Island Quarry  entered  with Yan Jian Group to permit the storage of mining equipment and the erection of accommodation for the miners.

    The late Lord Luani died on May 12  and was succeeded by his son, who launched the court action.

    A week after the late Lord Luani’s death, a Cabinet meeting attended by Lord Nuku approved the grant of the lease applied for by Island Quarry.

    In late 2010 and early 2011 Lord Nuku acquired another block of land, known as Block 85, which was surrendered by the owner after he received TP$130,000 from Lord Nuku.

    Island quarry entered into an agreement to operate a quarry on Lot 85.     The rent for the 20 year lease was TP$500,000, which was to be paid to Lord Nuku within a week of the agreement coming into force.

    In August 2012 the current Lord Luani, the plaintiff, wrote to the Minister of Lands, saying that  no lease in due form had ever been executed or registered. He asked the Minister to cancel the lease.

    Island Quarry continued to extract and remove road building materials from the site until May 2013 when quarrying  was forcibly  halted by Lord Luani.

    Lord Luani told the court that Lord Nuku had never acquired any interest in Lot 85 and that he had no authority to enter it or to allow the two Chinese companies to mine it.

    He said that neither he nor his father had ever received any  payment at all for the rock and coral excavated from Lot 85.

    In his judgement Mr Justice Scott said none of the legal requirements for mining Lot 85 had been met and therefore Lord Nuku and the Chinese companies were  trespassing.

    He therefore awarded damages equivalent to the value of the materials extracted from the lot by the mining company.

    The mining company was permitted to remain on Lot 90 as long as it paid the rent due on the land.

    The main points

    • The Land Court has ordered Lord Nuku and a Chinese mining company to pay the current Lord Luani TP$5,556,000 in Compensation for a dispute over a block of land in Malapo.
    • The penalty will attract interest at the rate of 10% until it is paid.
    • The dispute involved the exploitation of two blocks of land which were part of Lord Luani’s hereditary estate, by Lord Nuku and two Chinese companies, Yan Jian Group Co Ltd and Yan Jian Tonga Ltd.

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