Y.A.C. Priyankara, 33 had well laid out plans for his future when he invested in a plot of land in Pugoda in the Gampaha district, for which he sold his house in Yakkala.He rented out a house till he had built his own. “I was planning to build a small house on this land, put [...]


To have one’s land and sell it too

Land sold and re-sold to unsuspecting buyers while Land Registry records remain unaltered or go missing

Y.A.C. Priyankara, 33 had well laid out plans for his future when he invested in a plot of land in Pugoda in the Gampaha district, for which he sold his house in Yakkala.He rented out a house till he had built his own.

The controversial land in question.

The house that Madhu Pushpika lived in before she fled the country. Pix by Athula Devapriya

“I was planning to build a small house on this land, put our son into a good school and start a fast food outlet in town,” he said. He had planned for his future, but what he did not know was that this piece of land was to change his entire life.

When Priyankara and his wife first visited the land, they were happy as it was exactly what they were looking for and the land was cheaper than the usual market value in the area. They were told to pay Rs 1.7 million for the 333 perches at Rs 5,000 per perch, when the market value was nearly Rs 30,000 per perch.

“We invested all the money from the proceeds of the house we sold to buy this land. However, when we went to clear the land to build the house, the nightmare began. A person confronted us and demanded we stop work, claiming he owns the land.”
“Later, more people turned up claiming ownership of the land. It happened that the land was owned by several people. It was then that I realised that I was caught in a serious trap, “he said.

He found out later that the land was part of five acres which has been sold by three women to at least 47 persons although police say that number could increase.

“All the buyers were given permanent transfer deeds, and all of them are claiming ownership to the land,” said D.P. Podimanike from Pugoda, one of the last buyers. She had paid Rs 2.7 million for two-and-a-half acres of the land, along with a house, for her son who is a father of two.

“I pawned my jewellery, got loans from the bank and withdrew all the money I had in my savings account, to buy this house and land. We did not realise that we were caught in a trap, because, our lawyer found the deed or its extracts in order, “she said.
Deel Nishantha, a businessman from Pugoda was another victim.

Deel Nishantha

Madhu Pushpika

“I don’t know who to trust now. When we are ill, we go to a doctor. Likewise, when we wish to buy land, we go to a lawyer, because they are the experts. If they can’t detect any defects, then the general public is in a dangerous position. Furthermore, now we can’t even trust government departments,” said Nishantha who also bought a part of the land on December 2, 2011. There were others too who had been taken for a ride on this real estate deal.

The Gampaha Police investigating these complaints have found that a woman in her mid-thirties, identified as Madhu Pushpika, her mother, Lokuhapuarachilage Lilawathi and her aunt Lokuhapuarachilage Rathmawathi, were the masterminds.

The land was owned by the mother and the aunt, and they signed the deeds, while Madhu Pushpika brought the buyers. The land has been ‘divided and ‘sold’ since 2007, and the practice went undetected until July 2012, according to PoliceThe victims believe that the fraud may have continued for many more years, because the entries in the extracts at the Gampaha Land Registry Dept were either not maintained or the new transactions were willfully not recorded.

Some believe that separate entries were being maintained in a new book, and thereby, the original owners’ names remained in the extracts, without the transactions being recorded.

The lawyers too blame the Land Registry department, claiming that malpractices took place there.
“The entries were not entered accordingly, and when I checked the extracts, I did not find anything wrong or suspicious, nor was any page torn or damaged,” said Chithrani Wijesinghe, a lawyer representing one of the buyers. “There is some fraud going on in the Land Registry Dept, because there had been two books in which the extracts were maintained. They have now gone missing,” she added.

However, Gampaha Land Registrar, Ms H.D.J. Soysa claimed that the extracts were damaged and they have lodged a complaint with the police regarding this matter. She said she could not confirm whether the land sales were illegal or not.
An officer at the Gampaha police told the Sunday Times that the extracts at the Land Registry were torn and defaced. “We started to investigate into the incident when four people came and lodged complaints at the Gampaha police station. This kind of fraud can’t take place unless there is assistance from within the Land Registry Department. Tearing and erasing entries is time consuming,” he added.

Land Registrar General, E.M. Gunasekara said that they are investigating the matter to ascertain if a fraud had taken place within the Land Registry. “There are incidents where even lawyers have torn and damaged extracts from the land registry. So we don’t know exactly where the fraud has taken place,” he said.The police believe that the mother and the daughter involved in the fraud have fled to India, while the 85-year-old aunt was arrested by the police but was released because of her poor health.

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