No insurance after Tonga riots

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 10:17 13/11/2012

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A group of eight Tongan businesses has abandoned a lengthy court battle to get their insurance company to pay out millions of dollars in claims following riots in Nuku’alofa in 2006.

The November 16 riots, against the newly crowned King George V who died earlier this year, saw the central business district destroyed and eight people killed.

National Pacific Insurance (Tonga) Ltd, which is linked to Tower Insurance in New Zealand, refused to pay the eight business groups saying their loss in the “16/11 riots” was as a result of political disturbances and was thus not covered by the general insurance.

The case appeared in the Tonga Supreme Court this month with a New Zealander, Charles Cato, as Chief Justice and all lawyers from both sides coming from New Zealand. The hearing amounted to the only judicial review of the riots which effectively ended the absolute monarchy of Tonga.

Among the plaintiffs was Shoreline Group, a large company set up by the king that controlled electricity, mobile phones and a brewery. In the riot its offices were targeted and looted and it was there that eight rioters were killed.

Also taking a case were the now-Auckland-based Ramanlal brothers, close supporters of the king, whose Pacific Royal Hotel was destroyed. The Free Wesleyan Church was also party to the action which did not specify a sum to be paid.

Up to 40 witnesses were to have been called, but yesterday, the plaintiffs pulled out.

Matangi Tonga website (http://matangitonga.to/ ) said the parties ended their case saying the evidence in court so far favoured the defence position that the riots resulted from "a popular rising, people connected with an organisation the objects of which included influencing the government by violent means and terrorism."

In a joint statement the eight said they had a just case against NPI.

"The case was always going to be hard and expensive. We fought the case against NPI for five years but the insurer was uncompromising in its refusal to pay the plaintiffs’ claims under the insurance policies. It is disappointing that we did not get a better response from NPI, which had conducted insurance business with the Tongan commercial sector for many years," they stated.

NPI in its statement expressed delight in confirming, that the plaintiffs in this Supreme Court proceeding had discontinued all court action without any payment.
"Whilst NPI remains very sympathetic to the plaintiffs for their losses in the events of 16/11 this result vindicates NPI's decision that the losses were not covered by the policies."

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