13 Oct 2010

Sale of Tongan Epsom estate challenged

5:20 pm on 13 October 2010

A group of concerned Tongans says the King can't sell his Auckland estate because it belongs to the Tongan government.

But the government says this is not true.

Meanwhile the sale is on hold as a caveat has been placed on the estate.

Evelien Kortum reports:

An Auckland-based lawyer, Joel Fotu, says there is elaborate evidence to show that the estate was purchased for the Tongan government.

"Applications were made by the solicitors for the king in 1966 that an application was made to the, then, minister of finance for dispensation on the basis that this purchase was for the government of Tonga."

But Tongan newspaper publisher, Kalafi Moala, says the property is in the name of the Royal Family.

As a newspaper we did an investigation on that and found out that the title and everything belongs to the Royal Family. It was bought by their money and it belongs to the Royal Family so I don't see why anybody would be upset.

The government did not want to comment on the latest controversy and referred enquiries to the Palace Office.

But two years ago, the Prime Minister Feleti Sevele told Parliament that the royal residence in Epsom, Atalanga, is the property of the King, not the people of Tonga.

Dr Sevele said the late Queen Salote had bought the residence with her own funds, and that this had been confirmed to him by the previous owners.

A statement issued by the Prime Minister's office in 2008 said:

The Certificate of Title notes that the Successor to the registered Proprietor of the Property is 'His Majesty King Taufa'ahau Tupou of the Kingdom of Tonga, His Heirs and Successor' and that a new Certificate of Title was issued on the 9th of February 1966.

However, Mr Fotu says it is the Tongan taxpayers who pay the annual 28,000 dollar bill for the upkeep.

He says the caveat on the estate was lodged in order to delay the sale until the country's first democratic elections next month.

He says the King's name might be on the certificate but it is the King's name as the embodiment of the crown rather than the King personally.

We want to separate the persona of the King from being King as a coorporation soul as such, isn't it. That the King as a constitutional entity was actually holding the land for the people of Tonga.

Mr Moala says the issue is a non-event in Tonga and he doesn't understand the outrage.

He says there's no difference between the King selling his private property and anyone else selling property that is in their name.

Does every property that John Key, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, buys belong to the people of New Zealand, or is that his personal property? You know, and it's the same thing with the King here.

Mr Moala says the group that is trying to delay the sale is asking for attention.