Church case over misuse of donation funds not dismissed
Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — The Trial Division of the High Court has not dismissed the claim in the legal battle between members of the Samoa Korean Baptist Church (SKBC) that was first filed in Jan. 2012. The matter pits members of the Board of Directors of the church, who are the plaintiffs in this case, against other members of SKBC, including the church’s pastor alleging misuse of church donation funds.
Matalupevao Leupolu Jr is representing the plaintiffs in this matter, which are Soo Ki, Hea Suk Kim and Kwan Suk Kim, while Gwen Tauiliili-Langkilde is representing the defendants — Pastor Chang Sik Lee, Heung Yung Choi and the SKBC.
The court granted earlier this year in April, a motion to amend the complaint by the plaintiffs - filed Jan. 30, 2018 - to remove Kwan Suk Kim, as a plaintiff and the church as a defendant.
Also in April, the court issued a decision on the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim, filed two months earlier in February.
The Court found that two actual controversies exist between the parties; (1) the controversy regarding the spending of the donations; and (2) the controversy regarding the interpretation of the terms of the Church’s Articles of Incorporation requiring meetings of the Board of Directors and the corporate structure.
The Court said it is proper for plaintiffs to request a declaration on their right to have defendants perform an accounting of the building and other projects so plaintiffs can see if the donations were used for purposes other than what was presented by the church. The possibility remains for the plaintiffs to assert a fraud claim based on the accounting, according to the court.
Another pretrial conference for this matter was heard in the court last Friday, and the hearing is now continued until next month.
Meanwhile, members of the Samoa Korean Baptist Church (SKBC) Board of Directors are questioning the decision by the Immigration Office to renew the Immigration I.Ds of the church’s pastor and his wife, without approval from the Board of Directors, or a signature from an authorized member of the church.
On Nov. 11, 2011, two founding members of the Samoa Korean Baptist Church (church) and original members of the church's Board of Directors (collectively plaintiffs) filed a complaint against another original member of the Board of Directors, the Pastor, and the church itself (collectively defendants) for failing to perform an accounting of a building project, and failing to adhere to the terms of the church’s Articles of Incorporation.
Plaintiffs suspected that church donations were not used for the church building project and were instead used for defendant Choi’s business.
Because the church is incorporated, plaintiffs requested that the corporate veil be pierced so Pr. Lee could be removed from his position as pastor/president for failing to hold regular meetings of the Board of Directors.
An entry of default was issued by the clerk against the defendants on Jan. 26, 2012, and plaintiffs filed a motion for default judgement on that same date.
Defendants filed their answer denying the allegations and listed failures to state a claim, lack of standing, and the statute of limitations. The parties stipulated on Mar. 14, 2012 to set aside the clerk’s entry of default and to withdraw the motion for default judgment.
Since then, both parties have conducted some discovery.
A trial date was set by the court but was continued several times. Eventually it was taken off the calendar. On June 2, 2017, plaintiffs filed a second set of interrogatories and asked for a trial date.
In Jan. 2018, a motion to amend the complaint was filed by plaintiffs and granted by the Court in April 2018.
On Feb. 8, 2018, defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim.
In April of this year, the Court issued a decision denying defendants' motion.
While the legal battle between members of the SKBC, including its BOD, is still before the court, another issue has arose — this one having to do with the Immigration status of the church pastor and his wife. Apparently, their Immigration IDs are continuing to be renewed every year — without the knowledge of the church or members of the BOD.
In an interview with Samoa News, Byun Soo Ki, a member of the church BOD said that in order for the pastor and his wife to renew their Immigration IDs the BOD has to approve and an authorized member of the church has to sign the paperwork at the Immigration Office for legal sponsorship.
“The pastor and his wife’s Immigration IDs expired over ten years ago, and the church has already asked the Immigration Office to deport them back to Korea, however, the church and members of the BOD have now found out that a church member, who is not a member of the BOD, nor holds any position in the church has continued to sign the paperwork to renew the pastor and his wife’s immigration IDs,” Soo Ki told Samoa News.
Soo Ki said the actions of the church member — Mr. Heo, who is also a businessman in the territory — of signing the renewal paperwork was and is illegal.
When asked by Samoa News, Heo confirmed his actions, saying he’s a member of the SKBC and holds the position of a Deacon, and he has the right to act on behalf of the church to renew the pastor and his wife’s immigration IDs.
Samoa News was able to obtain a copy of the decision by Immigration, authorizing the pastor and his wife to reside in the territory until Feb. 12, 2019.
In the meantime, the church BOD is requesting the Immigration Office to revisit their decision in granting the renewal of the immigration IDs.
Soo Ki claims that the reason behind the BOD decision not to renew the pastor and his wife’s Immigration IDs was based on the allegation that the pastor, as a member of the church BOD, was involved in a controversy between members of the church which has landed in court.