Tongan court refuses ‘to strike out’ claims against gov’t’s link to $130,500 loan vehicle securities fraud

Tonga’s Supreme Court has declined to strike out claims the government brought in relation to a Ministry of Transport staffer who was at the centre of  a fake vehicle re-registration scam case.  

The second to sixth defendants

Sosefo Ponitini, a warranty officer working at the government’s Ministry of Transport had been accused of  falsely re-registering rental vehicles in the names of five vehicle hirers, namely the second defendant – Makeleta ‘Otani Kula, the third defendant – Maile Lesisita, the fourth defendant – Mele Siale, the fifth  defendant – Falesiu Lama and the sixth defendant – Loisi Paea ‘i Vahanoa Kalaivi.  

The scheme was faked to falsely show the five defendants were the owners of those vehicles and to enable them to use the vehicles as securities to secure various loans amounting to a total of $130,500 from ATL Finance exclusive of the $26,100.00 interest those loans were due to incur.

Ponitoni has been linked to the case as an agent of the first defendant, the government of Tonga.

Defaults on the loans led ATL owner Halahuni Langi to take enforcement action and discovered the motor vehicles were not in possession of the defendants.

Langi alleged the government operated the fraudulent scheme.  

The government argued that the legal action should have not been brought to court in the first place because the five-year period allowed by the law to deal with such a case had passed.

It also argued that the government “is not vicariously liable” since Ponitoni was acting on his own and he acted outside the scope of his employment.

Justice Cooper did not buy it.

Ponitini allegedly collaborated with the other defendants to this end, the court document said.

It is effectively alleged he was an agent of the first defendant and in acting in the scope of his agency provided the false Certificates of Registration of motor vehicles the co-defendants relied on, it also said.  

The application on behalf of the First Defendant to Strike Out the action the Plaintiff brought against him pursuant to Order 8, Rule 8 Supreme Court Rules (the Application), was filed 27 March 2023.

In his decision, Mr Cooper said:

“I am unpersuaded I have the requisite material to form a clear view in the event of a finding of joint liability between the Defendants and the effect on the time limit for the purposes of section 16 Supreme Court Act.  

“Prima facie there is an arguable case that Mr. Pontini was the agent of the first Defendant at the relevant time and so liability may fall upon him as principal.

“Therefore, I decline to strike out the claim as against the First Defendant.

“The First Defendant to pay the Plaintiffs costs of and incidental to the hearing, such costs to be taxed if not otherwise agreed within 14 days”.

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