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Land thief caught in the act

Two weeks after approaching the high court with an application to lay his hands illegally on a lot of land, a well-known businessman in the south of the island has abandoned the plan after being caught red-handed.

THE NEW TODAY can report that the businessman was forced to call his lawyer to withdraw the application before the court after he was confronted with the fact that the owner of the property that he targeted was living in the United States and was paying her land tax.

“The application would be withdrawn,” said the law firm who was acting on behalf of the individual.

The controversial businessman admitted to this newspaper that he had approached the owner of the land about eight years ago to sell him the property but no agreement was reached between both parties on the issue.

However, he tried to use the Covid-19 period to make the move to get the court to give him the land under the Possessory Title Act 22 of 2016 that was passed by the Keith Mitchell-led New National Party (NNP) administration.

The parcel of land is located in the St. George North-west constituency of Prime Minister Mitchell.

The businessman approached the high court with an application for declaration of possessory title of the land in an attempt to gain possession of the property on the grounds that he has been in possession for the past 12 years.

The individual had approached a local law firm to file the necessary legal papers including the publishing of the application in a local newspaper.

However, when confronted by an agent of the land owner, the small businessman admitted that he had approached the person concerned about 8 years ago to sell him the land but she did not agree.

Since the incident, a seasoned barrister-at-law has suggested that government should consider taking steps in Parliament to suspend the act giving life to the act as the coronavirus pandemic has provided an opportunity for its abuse by some rogues on the island.

According to the lawyer, he suspects that some persons are prepared to use the cover of Covid-19 to try and steal properties that do not belong to them.

The attorney urged all affected persons to take the necessary steps to file an affidavit and move quickly to get an application for the court to allow them to become a party to the matter and give evidence in the proceedings.

“The fact of the conversation (between the two persons eight years ago) is sufficient in my view for a judge to turn it (application to take possession of the land) back. There are safeguards in the law,” he said.

The lawyer conceded that the public-at-large is now seriously handicapped due to Covid-19 to be adequately informed about these possessory titles application that are filed before the court.

He said: “The purpose of the publication is for the world-at-large to know that such person is claiming that he has been on the land for more than 12 years and is an offer, an encouragement for anybody who has information regarding the land and the alleged occupation by this person to come forward and give evidence in court.

Due to covid-19 pandemic, a lot of persons who are not technologically inclined do not see the online version of the local newspapers to see these possessory title advertisements that are taken out by local law firms representing these persons.

According to the attorney-at-law, the Supreme Court Registry of the high court does not have any jurisdiction in the issue but rather the government of Prime Minister Mitchell.

He suggested that in the circumstances, government can make an amendment to the law by going to Parliament and modify it because of the peculiar circumstances of Covid.

“They could put something in place for Covid – say look over this period of the Emergency we suspend the Possessory Title act,” he remarked.

The lawyer defended the law on the grounds that it was introduced “to help poor people who have been on land for a number of years” to give them a legal avenue to get a title deed for the property in order to approach a financial or lending institution for a loan.

He recalled that after Hurricane Ivan hit the island in September 2004 and destroyed several homes, a number of persons were occupying lands without title and could not tap into financial assistance that was being offered by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

He said that USAID had made funds available but one of “the biggest stumbling blocks” was that the occupants of lands did not have possessory title deed to qualify them for assistance.

He said that millions of dollars that people could have received from the US agency could not be accessed due to the situation.