A protracted legal battle neared its end today when the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled that the Registrar of Lands is to publish the 16 land titles that it had ordered Foreign Minister Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington to return to his former business partners, Lawrence and Adam Schneider of Progresso Heights Limited.
The lands, together, are valued at over $641,000. Elrington had failed to carry out the court’s order in August, and continues to insist that he does not have the land titles.
The legal battle between Elrington, who was Attorney General and Minister of Foreign Affairs at the time as well as a business partner of the Schneiders, an American father and son team, has been going on in the courts for almost 7 years. The fight began after the company acquired 2,000 acres of land in Progresso, Corozal District.
Elrington took the Schneiders to court in 2010 for allegedly acting illegally. The Schneiders took out a counter lawsuit against Elrington, alleging that the company had sent the documents, pertaining to ownership of the 16 parcels of land to his law firm. The law firm, Pitts and Elrington, was supposed to have carried out the transfers of the lands, and to that end, the Schneiders reportedly deposited money in Elrington’s bank account to cover the costs of that process.
The lands were indeed transferred, a check at the Lands Registry confirmed, but the new owners did not receive the titles in Progresso.
Elrington continued to insist that neither he nor his law firm had received the necessary documents to get the transfers done.
The courts have found, however, that someone from the law firm had transferred 8 of the 16 parcels of land.
This past July, the CCJ ordered Elrington to produce the documents for the 16 parcels of land within a 30-day period. Elrington insisted that he did not know where the land documents were, and therefore, he was unable to carry out the CCJ order.
Progresso Heights Limited, through their attorney, went back to the CCJ to apply for the Lands Department to produce new land titles for the land that had been sold so that the new owners could receive them— something that should have been done since 2009.
This morning, after he exited the Supreme Court where a CCJ hearing was telecasted from the court’s headquarters in Trinidad, Elrington spoke to reporters.
“The court has certain limitations. I maintain that I never entered into the contract on which the case was based, never. I also maintain that no such evidence was before the court; I maintain that. The court found differently, but an examination of the record will show that in fact, no contract was entered into between me and the other side, and we have evidence in court that can establish that.”
“But the legal system is not perfect, and to the extent that it is not perfect — it is man- controlled — one has to go along with the decision that is taken. Am I happy with it? No, but life is real,” Elrington said.
The attorney for Progresso Heights Limited, Eamon Courtenay S.C., remarked, “Amazingly, Mr. Elrington swore an affidavit saying that he doesn’t have the documents, and that no servant or agent of his has the documents. So, my clients came to court today, asking the court to order that the certificates have been lost, 1, and 2, and to ask the Registrar to issue new certificates and deliver them to my client. We had thought that that was a logical and simple application.
“Lo and behold, last week Friday, Mr. Elrington had his attorney – he goes through the trouble of hiring an attorney now, after he represented himself and lost. He goes to the trouble of finding himself a good attorney to come to court and apply to oppose – listen – to oppose what we had sought from the court.”
“Mr. Elrington, who has lost people’s property, who cannot account for people’s property, who has taken people’s money and has not returned it to them, when the people came to court at the CCJ level, after he has lost…he wanted to come here and oppose it.
“Fortunately, the judges saw through it. The judges understood what was at play, and the judges made it very clear that they are declaring the titles lost. They insisted, fortunately, that the Registrar be here. She was actually in court and was questioned by the judges, and she gave the court her assurance that once the order is made, she will publish the notice of lost certificates for 3 weeks, and if nobody comes forward, she will issue the certificates,” said Courtenay.
After the Registrar has published the lost certificates in the Government Gazette, the new titles will be issued and delivered to Courtenay’s law firm for delivery to the land owners in Progresso.
The CCJ also awarded cost of court to the Schneiders for this final appeal, and for the cases in the courts below.