Auckland real estate agent James Papuni guilty of misconduct, struck off for 18 months

An Auckland real estate agent involved in attempted property sales with mortgage ramping characteristics has been convicted of misconduct and struck off for 18 months.

James Warren Papuni pleaded guilty to disgraceful conduct under the Real Estate Agents Act 2008 for his involvement in what the Real Estate Agents Disciplinary Tribunal called”dishonesty” with a scheme which, had it succeeded, would have deprived a mortgagee of full sale proceeds.

The mortgagee would have been deprived of $50,000 had the trade succeeded of a Greenhithe property at 21 Chester Rd for a Royal Oak property.

The transactions did not succeed but Papuni’s involvement meant he faced charges.

At the time, he worked for Forrest Hill Realty, the tribunal said. That trades as Ray White Forrest Hill.

The tribunal delivered its decision last month, noting Papuni “has worked in the industry for 27 years and has had no previous complaints made against him”.

Papuni told the Herald today he had since shifted to Australia and did not want any publicity.

He now lives in Brisbane and said: “I hold an Australian agents’ licence which I got some time ago. I might work as an agent here, but I might not choose to work in real estate”.

Despite his guilty plea before the tribunal and the subsequent conviction and sentencing, he today denied his offending when talking to the Herald.

“I didn’t actually do any wrongdoing. I was not guilty. At the end of the day, I wanted it over with,” he said referring to the length of time matters took to resolve, spanning four years.

Asked about the involvement of his former agency in the case, he said Ray White Forrest Hill “didn’t want to come to the party or anything”.

Ray White New Zealand chief agency officer Treena Drinnan said the business had fired Papuni and fully supported the tribunal’s decision.

“Ray White, upon being made aware of the behaviour of Mr Papuni, immediately reported the behaviour to the REA based on misconduct and in doing so, dismissed Mr Papuni from engagement with Ray White.

“We do not condone the behaviour of Mr Papuni and believe that the orders, as provided by the REA are fully accepted as the behaviour of Mr Papuni was not up to that of being a real estate agent, or the family values that Ray White prides itself on.”

The tribunal said Papuni became involved in the attempted dishonest property transactions at the centre of the case in December 2018.

It was not until last month that the penalty was delivered, removing his ability to practise as a New Zealand agent for almost two years.

But Papuni said the case did not mean he was unable to work as an agent in Australia.

His offending came at a high financial cost.

“I paid $22,500 for a real estate lawyer and it was all the fault of a lawyer anyway,” he said, referring to Aaron Kashyap who was also named in the decision.

Kent Perry of Heaney & Partners represented Papuni before the tribunal.

Claire Paterson, a Meredith Connell lawyer, acted for the complaints assessment committee which brought the case against Papuni. She cited a 2006 case that involved a dishonest mortgage application and a mortgage ramping scheme involving 20 properties.

Paterson told the tribunal there were some similarities between that case and Papuni’s.

Like that case, Papuni had assisted his vendor-client “in ostensibly dishonest conduct but was not the main perpetrator of the scheme”, Paterson told the tribunal.

Papuni would have benefited had the transactions gone ahead, she noted.

But the Papuni case was worse than the 2006 case “as he has admitted that he was aware of the purpose and impropriety of the Greenhithe/Royal Oak deal”, she said.

A starting point for his penalty should be cancelling his licence but she accepted there were mitigating factors relevant to the penalty.

Papuni was engaged by Yuxuan Co to market and sell a Greenhithe property but Paterson said he admitted that he knew if the property deals had succeeded it “would have the effect of wrongfully depriving the mortgagee of the Greenhithe property of the full proceeds of the sale of that property”.

It was “merely a pretence to enable to transfer of an additional $50,000 to the vendor of the Royal Oak property to settle a debt owed by the vendor of the Greenhithe property to the vendor of the Royal Oak property”.

The agent’s involvement could not be characterised as an innocent mistake or a momentary lapse of judgment, Paterson said.

The tribunal put little weight on a submission that the agent was acting on instructions from the vendor’s solicitor.

“A licensee with Mr Papuni’s experience should have been alert to the dishonesty of the Greenhithe/Royal Oak deals,” the tribunal concluded.

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