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MISCELLANEOUS TOPICS - National Security/International Affairs - Real Property - Ownership - Determination - GAO Authority DIGEST: It would not be appropriate for the General Accounting Office to determine questions about land ownership in the Republic of the Marshall Islands when the issue of ownership involves construction of land ownership law or custom substantially different from that regularly applied in the United States and the issue is in litigation. Kabua: You have asked this Office to investigate compensation payments for land use on Kwajalein Atoll. That you allege are being paid to the wrong person. These payments are described in a land use agreement of October 19. You state that you have the principal undisputed interest /2/ in over 22 parcels of land on Kwajalein comprising some 288 acres for which the United States Government is currently making land use compensation payments to the Marshall Islands for ultimate payment to you and your co- owners.

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B-227438, Nov 13, 1987, Office of General Counsel

MISCELLANEOUS TOPICS - National Security/International Affairs - Real Property - Ownership - Determination - GAO Authority DIGEST: It would not be appropriate for the General Accounting Office to determine questions about land ownership in the Republic of the Marshall Islands when the issue of ownership involves construction of land ownership law or custom substantially different from that regularly applied in the United States and the issue is in litigation.

Mr. Kabua:

You have asked this Office to investigate compensation payments for land use on Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands, that you allege are being paid to the wrong person. You also ask us to hold these payments during the pendency of court proceedings or place them with the court. /1/ For the reasons given below, we must deny your request.

You state that the United States Government annually pays to the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands approximately $7 million for use of lands by the United States Department of Defense on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. These payments are described in a land use agreement of October 19, 1982, between the Kwajalein Atoll Corporation and the Republic of the Marshall Islands and section 103(d) of the Compact of Free Association Act of 1985, Pub. L. No. 99 239, 99 Stat. 1770, 1778.

You state that you have the principal undisputed interest /2/ in over 22 parcels of land on Kwajalein comprising some 288 acres for which the United States Government is currently making land use compensation payments to the Marshall Islands for ultimate payment to you and your co- owners. You also state that you have the principal interest in approximately 60 additional parcels of land on Kwajalein comprising some 1450 acres that also are used by the United States.

You allege that approximately 4 years ago, Mr. Amata Kabua, President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, began contesting your interests in the lands described. The President's claim has resulted in litigation between yourself and Mr. Imada Kabua, /3/ the individual whom President Kabua appointed to act for him.

During this litigation it appears that you requested the Marshall Islands Government to withhold payment on all the funds which relate to the disputed parcels of land until ownership could be determined. You maintain that although the Marshall Islands Attorney General initially agreed to your request, ultimately you were told that payments would be made to Imada Kabua, and that those payments are currently being made. You say the amount of the disputed payments exceeds $1 million per year.

You contend that the land use compensation payments for your interests currently are being paid to the wrong person, and suggest that this error could make the United States liable to make a double payment. Accordingly, you request that this Office withhold distribution of compensation payments that relate to the disputed interests in the properties described.

The General Accounting Office is not usually in a position to determine questions of land ownership among conflicting claimants, B-207613, Apr. 6, 1983, particularly when the issue of ownership involves construction of land ownership law or custom substantially different than that regularly applied in the United States. Furthermore, this Office generally does not involve itself in matters that are in litigation. E.g., 63 Comp.Gen. 98, 99 (1983).

Under section 103(d) of the Compact of Free Association Act of 1985, Pub. L. No. 99-239, 99 Stat. 1770, 1786-87, the Congress declared it to be the policy of the United States that payments of funds by the Marshall Islands to the landowners of Kwajalein Atoll is required to insure that the United States will be able to fulfill its obligations and responsibilities under various Compact provisions. In the event the Marshall Islands fails to make the required payments the United States is to initiate procedures under section 213 of the Compact and consult with the Marshall Islands regarding the basis for non-payment. We understand that the State Department is principally responsible for administering this provision.

Under the Compact, this office is only authorized to audit grants, program assistance, and other assistance provided to the Government of the Marshall Islands. The Compact does not authorize us to withhold funds intended for the land use compensation payments described, or to place them with any court. Furthermore, since your question about land use payments is in litigation, it would be inappropriate to consider conducting an investigation.

/1/ Your letter failed to mention which court is involved.

/2/ You state that land in the Marshall Islands is traditionally held by three interests-- the iroij lablab, the alab, and the dri jerbal, apparently the highest of which the iroij lablab interest which you describe as the principal interest.

/3/ You inform us that Imada Kabua was the Executive Director of the Kwajalein Atoll Corporation. Until October 1985 the Corporation acted as the attorney-in-fact for the large majority of Kwajalein landowners in negotiations with the United States Government, and was the conduit through which land use payments were distributed to the landowners.

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