Property fraud costs Constantia buyer R2.2 million

A woman bought a house in Constantia for R2.2 million - but after a court ruling this week, she has neither the house nor the cash.

Kelly-Anne Duarte was conned into believing she was buying a house in Wittebomen Road with the consent of the owner, Chao-Chen Chen.

But in what has been described as an "elaborate fraud", those understood to have received the money from the deal have "absconded".

Chao-Chen was also a victim of the scam. In terms of Judge Bennie Griesel's judgment, handed down in the Cape Town High Court, Chao-Chen had merely been the victim of identity theft. The court found that:

The fraudsters had used a forged passport to persuade the relevant authorities to pass transfer of the property.

The photograph on the passport was "manifestly" not one of Chao-Chen.

Forged signatures appeared on the deed of sale and power of attorney.

Chao-Chen's marital status did not match up with that of the seller on the power of attorney.

The recipients of the proceeds of the sale "appear to have vanished since the finalisation of the transaction".

Chao-Chen, a Taiwanese national, brought the application to court after he became aware of the property transfer to Duarte, which had been effected on September 7, 2011.

The purchase price had been R2.2m. Chao-Chen sought to have the transfer cancelled and set aside in an application Judge Griesel said was "unusual". In his judgment, he said that two of the respondents - named as Natasha Chang and Changchuan Lin - had received the proceeds from the purported sale but that they appeared to have "absconded". Duarte opposed the application, but stated that she was not in a position to admit or deny Chao-Chen's allegations.

She wanted to know whether he was indeed the registered owner of the house when the transfer was effected and whether it had been effected with his consent.

Judge Griesel heard oral argument on these issues, establishing that Chao-Chen had taken ownership of the house in June, 1990.

He had left South Africa for Taiwan in 1995 or 1996 and the property had since then been administered by his attorneys and other appointed representatives. Duarte's husband had also been called as a witness, saying that the house had become "derelict" and an "eyesore" since Chao-Chen had left.

In the end, Judge Griesel said he had been left with two hypotheses: Chao-Chen had either been an "innocent victim of a fraudulent scam", or he was somehow "complicit in a plot to transfer the property".

There was "ample support" for the hypothesis that he was simply a victim and none to suggest that he was involved, Judge Griesel found.

He ordered, among other things, that the registration of transfer was of no effect and that it be cancelled. Duarte's attorney, Andrew Donnelly, said his client would take further action to recover the funds.

(Cape Times)

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