Posts Tagged fraud
In Cassegrain v Gerard  HCA 2 the High Court of Australian had to decide whether a wife’s title as a joint proprietor with her husband was defeasible by reason of the husband’s fraud. The case contains an interesting discussion about when the fraudulent acts of an agent can be attributed to the principal and also the nature of a joint tenancy.
Section 42(1) of the Real Property Act 1900 (NSW) provides that the estate of a registered proprietor is paramount. It provides that, subject to some exceptions:
“Notwithstanding the existence in any other person of any estate or interest which but for this Act might be held to be paramount or to have priority, the registered proprietor for the time being of any estate or interest in land recorded in a folio of the Register shall, except in case of fraud, hold the same, subject to such other estates and interests and such entries, if any, as are recorded in that folio, but absolutely free from all other estates and interests that are not so recorded“. (emphasis added)
Section 118(1) provides that:
“Proceedings for the possession or recovery of land do not lie against the registered proprietor of the land, except as follows:
(d) proceedings brought by a person deprived of land by fraud against:
(i) a person who has been registered as proprietor of the land though fraud; or
(ii) a person deriving (otherwise as a transferee bona fide for valuable consideration) from or through a person registered as proprietor of the land through fraud.”
The vendor transferred the land to the husband and wife as joint tenants for consideration to be satisfied by debiting the husband’s loan account with the vendor. The husband knew that the vendor did not owe him the amount recorded in the loan account. The husband then transferred his interest in the land to his wife for a nominal consideration. The questions were whether the wife’s title, first as joint proprietor with her husband, or second deriving from or through her husband under the subsequent transfer, was defeasible by the vendor.
Much attention was given in argument to whether the husband was the wife’s “agent”. In Assets Company Ltd v Mere Roihi  AC 176 at 210 Lord Lindley that:
“the fraud which must be proved in order to invalidate the title of a registered purchaser for value … must be brought home to the person whose registered title is impeached or to his agents. Fraud by persons from whom he claims does not affect him unless knowledge of it is brought home to him or his agents.” (emphasis added)
The argument was about whether the fraud was “brought home” to the wife because the husband was fraudulent and was her “agent”. It was not disputed that the husband acted fraudulently in both the first and second transfers.
The court rejected the contention that the husband’s fraud could be sheeted home to the wife as a matter of agency. The court referred to the statement by Street J in Schultz v Corwill Properties Pty Ltd 1969] 2 NSWR 576 where his Honour said :
“It is not enough simply to have a principal, a man who is acting as his agent, and knowledge in that man of the presence of a fraud. There must be the additional circumstance that the agent’s knowledge of the fraud is to be imputed to his principal. This approach is necessary in order to give full recognition to (a) the requirement that there must be a real, as distinct from a hypothetical or constructive, involvement by the person whose title is impeached, in the fraud, and (b) the extension allowed by the Privy Council that the exception of fraud under s 42 can be made out if ‘knowledge of it is brought home to him or his agents’.”
There was no evidence that the wife was knowingly engaged in the husband’s scheme to deprive the vendor its land for nothing.
The majority (French CJ, Hayne, Bell and Gaegler JJ) held that the wife’s title as joint tenant was not defeasible by showing that the husband had acted fraudulently because the fraud had not been brought home to her.
Keane J dissented on this issue. His Honour decided that the land was acquired by the wife and the husband as joint tenants and as joint tenants they acquired a single estate. The title was acquired by fraud “sheeted home” to the wife, not because the wife claimed the title through her husband, but by virtue of the joint tenancy of the single estate to which they were entitled.
The vendor succeeded in recovering the land because the whole court decided that s.118(1)(d)(ii) applied: the wife had acquired an interest as tenant in common as to half from the husband who had been registered as proprietor through fraud.
There have been many cases about whether a mortgage procured by fraud secured any money in circumstances where the mortgagee is innocent of the fraud. The latest case is Perpetual Trustees Victoria Limited v Xiao Hui Ying  VSC 21 (Ying) where Hargrave J refused to follow the Victorian decision of Solak v Bank of Western Australia  VSC 82.
There is no question that a lender mortgagee has an indefeasible mortgage when registered provided the mortgagee is not involved in the fraud. The question is whether any amount is secured?
In NSW and Victoria the issue has been resolved by determining whether the payment covenant in the forged collateral agreement is incorporated into the registered mortgage.
In Ying the mortgage incorporated a memorandum of common provisions which contained a covenant for payment by reference to any amounts owing under any other agreement between the mortgagor and the lender. The other agreements were also forged.
The thrust of the NSW decisions is that, where the loan agreement on which the lender relies is forged and therefore void, there is no “secured agreement” and therefore no “secured money” within the meaning of the payment covenant in the mortgage. See: Perpetual Trustees Victoria v English  NSWCA 32. The same logic has been applied where the loan agreement (but not the mortgage) is forged. See: Perpetual Trustees Victoria Ltd v Cox  NSWCA 328. In Solak Pagone J reached a contrary conclusion to the NSW courts. In Solak the mortgage and the loan agreement were forged. Pagone J distinguished the NSW cases on the basis that the mortgage, memorandum of common provisions and loan agreements all defined the mortgagor/borrower as ”You” and “You” was in each case the forger purporting to be Mr Solak. The mortgage was therefore effective as a security.
In Ying Hargrave J disagreed with Solak and followed the NSW decisions. His Honour said that Solak was “plainly wrong” and that there was nothing secured by the mortgage in Solak because there could be no amount owing under a forged loan agreement and there was also nothing secured by the mortgage in Ying. In Ying the plaintiff mortgagee was ultimately successful on the ground that the mortgagor held the mortgaged land on trust for the forger (the husband of the mortgagor) and that the mortgagee was entitled to have the value of the mortgaged land applied to partial repayment of its loans.
Since 24 September 2014 a mortgagee in Victoria has been required to take reasonable steps to verify the authority and identity of a mortgagor to ensure that the person executing the mortgage, or on whose behalf the mortgage is executed, as mortgagor is the same person who is the registered proprietor of the land that is the security for the payment of the debt.
See: s.87A(1) of the Transfer of Land Act 1958 which was inserted into the Act by the Transfer of Land Amendment Act 2014.
The purpose of the new provisions is to protect the owners of land against fraud.
If the Registrar is satisfied that the mortgagee did not take reasonable steps and the registered proprietor of the land did not grant the mortgage the Registrar may:
- if the mortgage has not been registered, refuse to register the mortgage; or
- if the mortgage has been registered remove the mortgage from the Register.
If the mortgage is removed from the Register the mortgagee no longer has an indefeasible interest in the mortgaged land and the mortgage is void. See: s.84A(5).
A mortgagee is considered to have taken reasonable steps taken to verify the authority and identity of a person executing a mortgage if it has taken steps consistent with any verification of identity and authority requirements:
- determined by the Registrar under s.106A; or
- set out in the ‘participation rules’ within the meaning of Electronic Conveyancing National Law (Vic).
The Registrar has not yet made a determination under s.106A.
The ‘participation rules’ refer to a face to face interview in the case of an individual and the sighting of identification documents such as a passport, birth certificate, Medicare card, drivers licence. See: schedule 8 “Verification of Identity Standard”. Where the mortgagor is a company confirmation of the existence and identity of the body corporate by a search of ASIC’s records must be undertaken together with reasonable steps to establish who is authorized to sign or witness the affixing of the common seal. The identity of the person affixing the common seal must also be verified. There are also provisions for the establishing the identify and powers of attorneys acting on behalf of mortgagors.
Mortgagees should establish procedures to ensure that they can comply with the new requirements and also maintain records for the purpose of being able to prove that they have complied with the new procedures. It would also be wise to obtain advice about what is required to comply with the new requirements.