IF you search the Web for ‘Natasha Chang’ you can take your pick. There’s a rather gorgeous top Caribbean motorsport driver, who describes herself as ‘a young, petite woman driving a big boy’s car and having some fun’. She suggests that if you want to excel in racing you should ‘start with carting and get seat time and experience’.
Then there’s an Italian professor in the United States who teaches courses in Italian language, literature, culture and history. Another, a marriage and family therapist practising in Philadelphia, deals with anger management, and ‘helps couples establish or restore intimacy in their relationship, even after such traumatic events as an affair’.
But there’s no sign of the Natasha Chang I’d like to meet.
Hardly surprising I suppose. This particular woman seems to be a skilled identity thief, someone who allegedly carried out a slick con job and then scarpered – the court more formally says she ‘absconded’ – with the proceeds of a house sale worth more than R2-million. Unlikely to advertise herself on the Web after that.
We meet our Natasha Chang on the pages of a decision delivered this week by Judge Bennie Griesel of the high court in Cape Town. In this case, which the judge describes as ‘rather unusual’, there’s an application for the transfer of a Constantia property to be cancelled and set aside.
The purported seller, Chao-Chen Chen, told the court he had no knowledge of the sale, that he hadn’t authorised it and that the whole transaction was an elaborate fraud.
He bought the property in 1990 but hasn’t lived in South Africa since about 1996. During the time since then the property has been administered on his behalf by his attorneys and other appointed representatives.
The buyer, Kelly Anne Duarte, asked for proof that Chen was the registered owner in the first place, and if so, of whether the transfer of the property had been carried out with his authority or consent.
During oral evidence on these two issues, the court heard that Chen became the lawful owner of the property during June 1990 and continued its owner until 7 September 2011 when it was transferred into Duarte’s name. His name, personal details and appearance all corresponded with the information in his passport. His signature was the same as the one signed when he needed to take out a bond over the property.
He denied he had ever authorised the sale of his property or that he had ever signed the deed of sale or the power of attorney used to effect the transfer.
Whoever did sign the papers on the other hand must have used a forged passport, the court found. The photo in that passport was clearly not Chen’s, nor was the signature on the documents. The ‘real’ Chen’s marital status differed from that of the person who purported to approve the property’s transfer. And the ‘seller’ together with the two people who took the proceeds of the sale, one of them Natasha Chang, the other, Changchuan Lin, have all vanished.
The judge summed up the evidence of the handwriting expert who persuaded the court that there were genuine differences between the ‘real’ Chen and the con-Chen. That left room for one of two possible conclusions: either the ‘real’ Chen was an innocent victim of a fraud, or else he was somehow involved in the whole con-plot.
While there was ample evidence before the court for the first conclusion, there was nothing to support the second.
‘I am left in no doubt whatsoever that Chen was not party to the scam’, said Judge Griessel. His signature was forged to allow the perpetrators to arrange the transfer of his property.
It was long established that a non-owner couldn’t transfer ownership, except if the owner granted authority. And as a result the deed of transfer, based on a forged power of attorney, gave no rights to the buyer.
The judge declared that the registration of the property in the name of the buyer was ‘of no effect’, and ordered the registrar of deeds to cancel the transfer. In addition, the buyer, whom I suppose we should now refer to as the ‘buyer’ were ‘forthwith ejected from the property’.
And as if that weren’t enough, she was also ordered to pay the costs of the case, the ‘reasonable travelling expenses’ of Chen and another witness, the expenses of the hand-writing expert and the costs of the Chinese interpreter.
Quite reasonable to conclude, after all that, that I’m not the only one seeking Natasha Chang.