Assume that I own an item. Somebody impersonates me and pretends to be the rightful owner of the item. The impersonator then sells the item to another bone fide buyer. To me, that transaction is clearly illegal. It violates rights to the idea of private property, one of the main pillars of libertarianism. But one does not need to be a libertarian to understand that that is utterly wrong. Fraud is always wrong. But a certain judge, Eusoff Chin, in 2000 ruled otherwise.
Roger Tan Kor Mee wrote an insightful article at Loyak Burok on the matter:
Briefly, in Adorna Properties, a Thai, Boonsom Boonyanit, who resided in Thailand was the registered proprietor of two lots land in Tanjung Bungah, Pulau Pinang (”the said lands”). An impostor, one Mrs Boonsoom Boonyanit, claiming to be ”Sun Yok Eng @ Boonsom Boonyanit” had affirmed a statutory declaration on June 18, 1988 that she had lost the original title to the said lands. The impostor then managed to obtain a certified copy of the title from the land office.
On April 6, 1989, the impostor affirmed a second statutory declaration declaring that the names Mrs Boonsoom Boonyanit and Sun Yok Eng @ Boonsom Boonyanit in the title to the said lands were one and the same person, that is Mrs Boonsoom Boonyanit (impostor) with a different Thai passport number. With this declaration, the impostor managed to register the transfer in favour of Adorna for a sum of RM 12Million.
Boonyanit then sued for the return of the said lands. The High Court Judge of Penang, Justice Vincent Ng Kim Khoay, ruled in favour of Adorna (judgment dated April 25, 1995). On appeal, the Court of Appeal, comprising Gopal Sri Ram, Siti Norma Yaakob and Ahmad Fairuz, allowed the appeal in its judgment dated March 17, 1997. Adorna then appealed, and the Federal Court comprising Eusoff Chin, Wan Adnan Ismail and Abu Mansor Ali allowed Adorna’s appeal in its judgment dated Dec 13, 2000 and pronounced in open court on Dec 22, 2000 (”main judgment”), but by then Boonyanit had passed away in May that year. [Can landed property be validly transferred land using a forged instrument? Roger Tan Kor Mee. Loyar Burok. January 20 2010]
But even if the law actually justified the year 2000 ruling, then the law has to be deeply flawed and repulsive to the notion of justice. It practically legalizes robbery. Is such law deserving of adherence?
It is therefore highly comforting for me to learn that the Federal Court today overturns that despicable ruling, restoring ownership of the land to its rightful owner.
PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court on Thursday departed from its judgement nearly 10 years ago in the Adorna Properties Sdn Bhd vs Boonsom Boonyanit case, plugging a loophole in the law to thus allow landowners who lost their land through fraudulent means to redeem their right to the property.
In its landmark unanimous ruling, the five-man bench led by Chief Justice Zaki Azmi held that land transferred by fraudulent means will no longer be legally accepted. [Federal Court reverses its decision in landmark land case. The Star. January 21 2010]
Alas, the rightful owner is already dead.
Still, it is righting a wrong and it preserves the sanctity of right to private property. That, is something to celebrate for.