Settlement induced by misrepresentation that one of the parties had title to land as bona fide purchaser for value

In Howin Industrial Ltd v China Group Global Ltd ([2017] HKEC 1485) P transferred land to D2 to D13 for no consideration. D2 to D13 were male indigenous villagers entitled to ding rights. D2 to D13 executed declarations of trust confirming that each of them held his land on trust for P. These declarations were not registered at the Land Registry.

P was wound up. The Government subsequently issued notices of resumption in respect of the land. D2 to D13 assigned the land to D1 which had been incorporated to handle the compensation claims.

P’s liquidators discovered the declarations of trust. They made inquiries and were led to believe that neither D1 nor its lawyers knew of the declarations and that D1 was a bona fide purchaser for value of the land (‘the representation’). This was shown to be false in subsequent criminal proceedings.

Influenced by the representation, P’s liquidators entered into a deed of settlement (‘the deed’) dividing the compensation monies between P and D1.

When P’s liquidators discovered the truth, they sought to have deed set aside. They were successful. It was enough that they were influenced to enter into the deed by the representation (Zurich Insurance Co plc v Hayward [2016] 3 WLR 637, SC).

Time did not start to run until they had discovered the fraud or concealment (Limitation Ordinance, s. 26(1)).

P was entitled to a declaration that it was the sole beneficial owner of the land. This appears to be founded on a resulting trust arising from the fact that D2 to D13 did not give consideration. P did not need to plead the illegality.

In the criminal proceedings, the Court of Appeal had taken the view that the assignments to D2 to D13 were sham documents having no legal effect. D2 to D13 thought that the point of the documents was to transfer the ability to exploit their ding rights.

P was entitled to all of the compensation paid by the Government.

Michael Lower

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