How would you feel if you found more than $20,000 in a tatty bean bag abandoned on the side of the street?
Two Wellington students did and say it was terrifying.
They were so scared it might belong to a criminal that, at first, they put it back where they found it.
And a judge seems to agree their fears may be well-founded. "For safety reasons" he has suppressed the names of those involved, including the lawyer who acted for two of them, and the suburb the bean bag was found in.
The Wellington District Court judge has also now signed off an agreement that will be the legal equivalent - with a few twists and exceptions - of the old maxim "finders, keepers".
The two students picked up two bean bags from a Wellington street on December 11 last year, intending to reuse the "bean" filling.
"The best part of it was when we opened it and the excitement when the money came out," said the 25-year-old student.
First a $100 note and then a "brick" of bank notes tumbled out of one of the bags, and then more and more appeared. "And then 30 seconds later the terror started," her 28-year-old partner said.
They imagined desperate drug dealers or robbers looking for the money. They panicked, taped over the rips in the bags and put them, and the money, back on the street.
But the next morning their $20,000 dilemma was still there so they called the police.
A young officer turned up and counted all $20,550, in $100 and $50 notes, three times in front of them. The pile covered a table top and was several inches thick.
The small polystyrene beans clung to everything, including the officer and his car, as the bags, beans and money were driven away.
"We said to the police, if anyone turns up, we want nothing to do with it," the man said.
Six months passed and police could not link the money to a crime and no-one reported it missing.
Police told the couple to see a lawyer if they wanted the cash.
However, the day the case went to court the pair discovered the people outside whose house the bags were found also wanted a cut.
They said the bean bags had been theirs, bought at a charity shop several years earlier, and then discarded without the money being found.
One of the students' flatmates, who was there when the money was discovered, was also interested, while two other flatmates had to be persuaded to take a share before they too were written into a seven-way agreement about where the money would go.
But if someone can prove the money is theirs the couple understand it should be returned. "If the true owner shows up, who are we to deny them?" the man said.
They said they had no plans for the money. It was probably destined for a bank account, perhaps some of it going to charity.
"We would hope that if we lost something this valuable that people would be equally reticent about taking it for themselves," the man said.
His partner agreed. "If the true owner is not a criminal we would be ready to give it back.
"Our big complaint is that the police never gave us our beans back. That's all we ever wanted, the beans."
Under the agreement the court has endorsed, the couple who found the money are expected to get $4500 each.
Their three flatmates present when the money was discovered are to get $1800 each.
The two people who said they had thrown away the secondhand bean bags without ever discovering the money also receive $1800 each.
Legal fees will take care of the remaining $2550.
Police have praised the honesty of the group. "This is a great ending to a pretty unusual situation," Detective Senior Sergeant John van den Heuvel said.
They had done the right thing and could now enjoy an unexpected windfall.
Police were confident any legitimate owner would have been in contact by now.
Under section 40 of the Policing Act 2008, a District Court judge can make an order for possession when the owner cannot be found or there is doubt that the person claiming property is entitled to it.
However, even after an order is made the true owner still has the right to recover the property.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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