Ten days to pay or you're going to prison. That's the verdict for one woman who ignored a court order.
In a judgment released yesterday in the High Court at Auckland, Justice Matthew Palmer found Hsiang-Fen Ying in contempt of court after she ignored the order to transfer a property she owned to its rightful buyer, and instead sold the house to a third party for a higher price.
In 2013 Ying agreed to sell the Papatoetoe property, owned by Ying's firm King David Investments, to Zie Zhang for $399,000. Ying's husband, Jinyue Youn, also appears to have signed the sale documents, Justice Palmer said.
Zhang paid $30,000 in deposit on the property, but after a number of disputes Ying tried to withdraw the property from the sale.
Zhang was forced to find alternative accommodation and no settlement was made for the withdrawal of the sale. Zhang then took Ying and her husband Jinyue Young Young to court seeking "a declaration, transfer of the property by way of specific performance of the contract and damages".
In July this year a jet-lagged Ying and Young appeared in court, complaining of diahorrea and nausea, having just returned from China where they had celebrated their son's graduation. After two days, a settlement was reached and signed by all parties involved.
The agreement stated they would perform the sale by September and pay $220,000 to Zhang by way of settlement.
However, the couple later claimed they were in no state to have signed the document, citing jet lag and sickness. Ying said she signed it because she felt she had no choice, while Young said he found it extremely difficult to focus and only glanced over it for a minute.
Young is a lawyer.
When cross-examined about his profession, Young said he did not consider he was a prudent solicitor, which he understood to mean "careful."
The couple said when they read the settlement the next day, they were stunned at what they had signed.
They applied to the court to have their consent on the agreement withdrawn, in part because, "the settlement was not done of their own free will".
To the bafflement of the court, the couple also claimed they did not know the consent orders were final, but instead thought they were "pending" - despite the fact they had applied to overturn the consent orders.
Young sent a mostly incoherent 10-page complaint to the court saying: "The plaintiff's interpreter was incompetent; there was fraud or deception; there was abuse of process; they did not consent; and the penalty was wrong."
The application was never properly filed to the High Court so it could not proceed.
Young took the issue to the Court of Appeal where the case was dismissed, with the court explaining it had no jurisdiction on the matter.
On the day after the Court of Appeal issued its minutes, Ying sold the house to a third party for $655,000.
The house, once sold, could not be recovered by Zhang.
That's when Zhang applied to the court for the arrest and imprisonment of Ying and Young for contempt of court "until they disgorge the proceeds of the sale of the property".
Ying and Young didn't appear in court at the set date. Instead, Ying liquidated King David Investments that day.
At a later appearance Ying claimed she liquidated the firm in order to pay bills, but the judge did not accept that. He said the timing was too coincidental.
"I find the company was liquidated in order to avoid the consequences of dishonouring the consent orders," Justice Palmer said.
Zhang has been awarded $506,000 comprised of the current market value of the property minus the original purchase price plus the $220,000 agreed upon in the first settlement.
Ying, found in contempt of court, must now pay the High Court a $10,000 fee within 10 days or face imprisonment.