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Challengers say Auckland residence belongs to Tonga

NUKU΄ALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Nov. 2, 2010) – Tonga’s King through his Auckland solicitors has warned a group challenging the king's ownership of 'Atalanga to back-off or face a substantial counter claim for damages.

The king does not want to be harassed by litigation which might dispute his rights to acquire the money from an intended sale of the multi-million Epsom property that was used as a royal residence for over half a century.

The king's solicitor, Nicholas K. Fisher stated that any claim in their opinion "will be vexatious".

He was replying to a letter written to the King by lawyer Sione Fonua and the Langafonua Tu'uloa Party on October 25 seeking clarification of the ownership of 'Atalanga, bought by Queen Salote in 1952 and maintained ever since with Tonga government funding.

Sione T. Fonua the party leader, who is a candidate in this month's general election, wanted the king to make it clear whether or not he intended to use the proceeds for his own purposes. There is a controversy over whether the property at 183 St Andrews Road is an asset held by the Monarch on his own behalf or whether it is an asset of the state held on behalf of the Tongan people. The group who believes the sale is unconstitutional under Clause 48 of the Tonga Constitution sought a stay of the sale until the matter could be legally determined.

However, the firm Fisher and Lamberg in a letter on October 27 warned: "We also act for His Majesty. We put you and your clients on notice that any actions to interfere with the king's undoubted right to sell the 'Atalanga property, in which it belongs to him in his personal capacity, both in New Zealand or in Tonga will result in a claim for damages, which are likely to be substantial."

The king's solicitor said they received instructions from the Prime Minister of Tonga to reply to the letter of October 25 given to him by the Lord Chamberlain "on behalf of His Majesty."

'Atalanga was purchased in 1952 as the personal property to Her Majesty Queen Salote Tupou III and her Heirs and Successors. Upon her death it passed to her heir, His Majesty King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV and in due course on his death it devolved upon His Majesty King George Tupou V. Both took title in their own names as individuals for themselves, their heirs and successors."

Mr. Fisher stated that "nowhere in the progress of title from the sale to the late Queen Salote in 1952 to date is there any recorded provision to effect that it was held by their Majesties in trust for or on behalf of the Kingdom of Tonga."

He claimed that the Government of Tonga had no legal or equitable interest in the property.

"We trust that given the above, you or the parties you represent will not attempt to argue in public to the contrary or interfere with the sale," he stated.

But in a reply yesterday Sione Fonua yesterday, November 1, stated the group are prepared to take the matter to the courts if it could not be resolved through discussions.

"The justice that His [Majesty's] subjects are looking at is the unequivocal evidence that 'Atalanga was purchased with Late Queen Salote personal funds. And if that is the case what happens to the funds that the government has spent on the property over the years and this must have, in equity, created an equitable interest attached to the property?" he asked.

"We humbly request that your clients withdraw the property from the market and to give us an opportunity to meet with your clients in an effort to resolve this matter without having to go to court," he told Fisher.

But Sione stated that if that information was not forthcoming by 5p.m. today Tuesday November 2 then they would proceed to file proceedings in court "for declaration pursuant to the constitution declaring whether or not 'Atalanga is inheritance property held by His Majesty for His successors and Royal Line."

Sione stated that another question, which needed to be addressed, and they would like an answer on, is whether or not the Government of Tonga on behalf of the people, should be reimbursed out of the proceeds of sale for funds spent on the property since 1952.

"We have documentary evidence which showed that the property 'Atalanga is maintained with public funds over so many years. In fact the government's budget in each and every year shows an estimate of certain amount to be spent on the property," he said.

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