Expert recommends criminal investigations in Boonsom international land fraud case

By Natalie Chan | nataliechan@starmedia.my

Property valuer and arbitrator Ernest Cheong believes that the Penang state government, Penang Land Office and some Malaysian lawyers must be investigated for their parts in the Boonsom Boonyanit land fraud case.

In this 23-year old saga, the land that had been bought by a Thai national, Boonsom Boonyanit, in Batu Ferringhi, Penang, had been sold by an imposter to a company called Adorna Properties, when later sold it to another property developer.

According to Cheong, when the replacement title was first issued to the imposter, there are strict procedures to follow as prescribed in the National Land Code 1965 to ensure that the rightful persons are allowed to apply for and be issued with a replacement title. There should have been a duty of care on the part of the Land Office in Penang to ensure that the rightful owner was being dealt with.

Unfortunately, from the facts we now know, it appears that the Penang State Authorities during this time in the late 1980s did not follow these procedures, says Cheong.

When the land was then transferred to Adorna Properties, it should have been attested to by two lawyers who also had a duty of care to ensure that the transferror was the rightful owner. Cheong believes that the lawyer(s) who prepared the statutory declarations that enabled the imposter to be issued the replacement title should have thoroughly checked the identity and bona fide of the imposter including his Thai passport.

Piya Sosothikul (left) and Prithep Sosothikul (right) holding a picture of their late grandmother, Boonsom Boonyanit

“From the facts now known, the imposter is also known by a Chinese name. Is he also a Malaysia who carried a Malaysian IC? Did the lawyer(s) thoroughly check the identity and bona fide of the imposter, including his Malaysian IC and thai passport?

“These questions need to be answered to trace the ring of conspiracy that may include some Malaysian lawyers and officers in the Penang Land Office at that time.”

“As such, the state government of Penang may be liable under the National Land Code 1965 for criminal negligence. And in criminal negligence. there is no time bar,” says Cheong. “Justice involves giving unto them what they are due in the public interest. This will send a strong message to deter similar cases from happening in the future.”

Grandchildren will appeal to PM and CM

In the meantime, Boonsom’s grandchildren are writing to the Malaysian Prime Minister and Penang Chief Minister to demand compensation which would then be channeled to charity.

The Sosothikul cousins emphasise that their cause is neither monetary nor political. “This is not about money. This is about getting the justice we deserve. This is not about politics. This is about justice, which is above politics,” said Piya in his speech.

Piya reiterates that the Sosothikuls are not singling out the government nor the authorities as enemies. “We are not fighting the government. We would love to work with the authorities to bring justice.”

When questioned, Piya did not specify on the form of compensation or response expected by the Sosothikuls. “It is not a question of satisfaction, but resolution.”

“We would appreciate a response from the authorities by April 7, as it will be the 24th anniversary of this ordeal,” said Piya.

Piya states the support from Malaysians on Facebook as the reason behind the timing of the press conference. “Basically, we wanted to know if we were fighting this fight alone. We wanted to hear what the Malaysians think. We were amazed. Within weeks, we had thousands of supporters, offering their assistance. This shows that the people of Malaysia believe in justice and want justice to prevail,” he said.

The Facebook page will be available for visitors to comment until the end of March in order to avoid it from being used as a political tool. “We would denounce anyone trying to use our case for political benefit,” said Piya.

To international land buyers, Prithep had this advice. “Cross check the history of your land. That’s all you can do,” he said.

The late Boonsom Boonyanit.

How it all began
The saga first started in 1967 when Boonsom Boonyanit and her husband Vechai Sosothikul purchased approximately 8,000 sq m of land in Tanjung Bungah, Penang, with plans to retire there.

In 1989, the family finds out through an advertisement in the Thai Rath newspaper that the piece of land has been sold without their knowledge. An individual assuming the identity of Boonsom Boonyanit under a different Thai Identity Card number signed a statutory declaration claiming that the title documents had been lost and requested a replacement title at the Land Office in Penang.

The individual also signed another statutory declaration stating that Boonsom Boonyanit (imposter) and Boonsom Boonyanit (as in the land title) are one and the same person. The individual immediately transferred the land to Adorna Properties (then known as Calget Sdn Bhd). Adorna has since gone bankrupt.

In 1995, Boonyanit brought her case to the High Court, but the High Court ruled against her. She appealed and won, but the Federal Court allowed Adorna’s appeal. Boonyanit’s relative attempted to get the case reviewed but failed but in 2010, the Chief Justice announced his support for Boonyanit. Nevertheless, in 2011,  Boonsom’s family brought the Land department to court but lost, with the court ruling that the case was time-barred.

 

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