Dark glasses-wearing Chinese migrant Yong Xin Chen, being sued for more than $300,000 after abandoning her leasehold Greenlane property, broke down crying yesterday under cross-examination by the Cornwall Park Trust Board's QC Matt Casey.
He was asking her about the allegedly poor state of the $2.4 million house at the centre of the case in the High Court at Auckland, quizzing the Orakei mother about the board's access difficulties when arranging an auction via Harcourts, asking about unmowed lawns, the place being in a bad state, a noise control complaint and the mosquito-infested swimming pool.
Chen was unable to speak clearly and gulped back tears as she described her serious illness and how her husband Yue Lin had a malignant tumour.
Casey asked Justice Rebecca Ellis if a break was needed but Chen said she could carry on.
Speaking passionately in Mandarin translated by interpreter Albert Deng, Chen denied 21 Maungakiekie Ave, backing onto Cornwall Park, was in a poor state when the board tried unsuccessfully to sell it although she later conceded lawns were unmowed, mail uncleared and said her family had two Alsatians there.
"I was in poor health, my husband was in poor health and my daughter was associating with a boyfriend," Chen said of the time when difficult negotiations were going on with the board from 2009 to 2011.
Shanshan Lin is seen here walking into court with her mother. Photo / NZ Herald
Shanshan Lin, Chen's daughter, also took the stand, telling how relatives from China also lived with her family at the house, particularly at the time her mother was ill.
Casey asked Chen if some time before mid-2011 she was not living at the house to which Chen agreed the family sometimes lived at their other multi-million dollar place at 2 Titai St, Orakei, moving between the two places.
She told how "guests" lived at Greenlane and a recently separated woman with a young child lived in the downstairs flat. Casey asked her about renting the place out to AUT students but said said the residents were either friends of her husband or daughter. Casey said Auckland Council handled a complaint about the mosquito-infested pool, writing to her at the Orakei address, evidence she lived elsewhere and rented out Greenlane, which leaseholders were banned from doing.
Casey also asked why she did not fix the roof in 2005 when she moved in, to which she said it was not leaking back then.
Casey asked how it was she only had two invoices for the extensive work she said claimed at the house but she said she had not expected to be asked to prove that work. Chinese trades people, found via Chinese newspaper, did that work, some paid in cash to avoid GST, Chen said.
Other businesses charged more and took too long to come, Chen said. Casey said professionals charged GST so their fees would naturally have been higher, to which Chen agreed and said she saved money by paying cash and avoiding GST.
Casey said Chen and her husband Lin were experienced property developers who would keep records but Chen said not for small work.
Chen said she bought a new gas stove, rangehood, dishwasher, waste master and new laundry cabinets and sink but Casey asked where many valuable fixtures had gone after she left. Chen said the place had been burgled and a neighbour's house was burgled two to three times.
Casey asked her about "becoming very angry" when told she could not freehold the place but Chen denied that. Casey asked her about getting angry when told the $8300 a year rent was going to $73,750 a year and could not be negotiated but Chen said she believed she had co-operated with the board.
Chen said the board could have sold her the land "but you refused to negotiate. It's not fair you should ask me to pay all this money retrospectively. I believe it's unreasonable. I think everybody present here would find this incredible. I don't think it's consistent with the original donor of Cornwall Park or the purpose of Cornwall Park as a charitable organisation," Chen told Casey, although the judge advised her to limit her answers.
Casey said she so aggrieved that she was not going to leave anything valuable in the house but Chen said that was incorrect. Casey said she took the stove, dishwasher and vanity units "because at the time you were very cross with the board in the way they had treated you" but Chen said she had loved the property.