PETALING JAYA: Villagers in Padang Terap, Kedah, are calling on authorities to investigate a purported land scam targeting families of landowners who died without leaving a will – where many of whom are illiterate.
Nur Aina Balqis Abdullah, 39, said many elderly folk are having sleepless nights, as they feared losing their land.
"My mother (Esuk Nooi, 66) is one of them.
"At least 40 others in Kampung Lubok Rambai where I am staying, and many more in nearby villages including Kampung Kap, Kampung Padang, Kampung Changdeng, and Kampung Landin, are facing a similar predicament," she claimed.
She said her grandfather's 2.607ha plot of land in Kampung Lubok Rambai was scheduled to be auctioned off on June 27.
"We only found out about it in late May, after a stranger came to our house to tell us to vacate the house, claiming the land would be auctioned off.
"He offered my mother a mere RM6,000 to vacate the land that belonged to my late grandfather, Endin Rong Endin Prom Kiau, who passed away in 1992 at the age of 76.
"I went to the land office to check and was shocked to find out that the land was mortgaged to a bank in 1983, and the bank was owed a staggering RM698,403.52.
"We never received any notice from the bank!
"My grandfather was practically bedridden in the last decade of his life. He could not walk without any assistance. My mother, who was his sole surviving child, took care of him until the day he died.
"It was impossible for him to go to the bank without my mother's knowledge. He was illiterate, and so is my mother," she said.
Nur Aina said her family had never borrowed that much money from the bank.
"We could not even afford to repair our leaking roof!" said Nur Aina, who has lodged a police report.
She said that Amanah Raya Bhd was named in the auction notice as the official representative of her deceased grandfather.
Amanah Raya Bhd is a government-owned trustee company, established in 1921 as the Department of Public Trustee and Official Administrator, and incorporated in 1995.
An Amanah Raya spokesperson, when contacted, said they were informed by a law firm that Endin's next-of-kin could not be found.
"We will inform the law firm that we cannot represent the deceased now that we are made aware of the existence of Endin's next-of-kin," said the spokesperson.
According to the auction notice dated May 12, Padang Terap assistant district officer Fara Ashikin Mohd Zikri said this was the third attempt to auction off the land, as there were no bidders when the first two auctions were conducted in December last year and April this year.
It was stated in the notice that the auction would be conducted on June 27 at the Padang Terap District and Land Office.
Fara Ashikin confirmed that the reserve price was RM84,000, and acknowledged that the amount payable to the mortgage holder as of Sept 19 last year was RM698,493.52.
Nur Aina called on the authorities to investigate those involved in mortgaging the land.
She said the bank had confirmed that the title deeds for four pieces of land (belonging to people who were deceased) were used as collateral by a third party to secure a bank loan amounting to RM180,000 in 1983.
According to the bank, an individual used the four title deeds (belonging to other individuals) to secure loans for his company.
The bank officer said of the four pieces of land involved, two had been auctioned off and another had been reclaimed.
"The fourth piece of land belonging to Endin is scheduled for auctioning," she said.
Asked why a third party was allowed to use other people's land as collateral, the officer said they only proceeded after getting clearance from the land office.
Padang Terap district officer Fathullah Suhaimi said they had to postpone the auctioning of Endin's land pending further investigation.
"We have all the relevant documents. The police can carry out forensic analysis to ascertain the authenticity of the thumbprint."
A villager known as Patt said she had lost her land because someone took their title deed and changed it to his name.
"That person took it to the land office and changed the name. We cannot do anything about it. We are mostly Siamese people who can't read or write in Malay. Most of us, especially the older generation, have problem communicating in Malay.
"Two others I know have also lost their orchards. We are keeping quiet because we do not want anyone to come and harm us," said the elderly woman.
Kedah police chief Datuk Zainuddin Yaacob called on villagers who felt cheated to lodge a police report.
"We will carry out investigations to ascertain if there are any basis to their allegations.
Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz Mahathir said he would check on the matter.