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Facebook's Zuckerberg sues hundreds of Hawaiians to force property sales to him

CNBC logo CNBC 20/01/2017 Dan Mangan

© Provided by CNBC Aloha! Now sell me your land! 

Facebook (CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly is suing hundreds of Hawaiians to compel them to sell the billionaire small plots of land they own that lie within a 700-acre property that Zuckerberg purchased on the island of Kauai two years ago for $100 million.

Zuckberberg-controlled companies filed eight so-called "quiet" title lawsuits in a Kauai court on Dec. 30 requesting the forced sales at public auction to the highest bidder, which would allow him to make his secluded beach-front land on the island's north shore even more private, according the Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper.

Currently, owners of the lands, which have been in their families for generations, have the rights to travel across Zuckerberg's property to get to their own lands. Their lands make up slightly more than eight acres.

Many of the defendants in the suits by the social media mogul are living, but some are dead. The defendants may hold just a tiny fraction of ownership in the parcels because they are several generations removed from the original owners, according to the paper's story on the cases.

The defendants had 20 days to respond to the suits, or they forfeited their rights to a say in the proceedings.

Zuckerberg's lawyer, Keoni Shultz of the firm Cades Schutte, in a statement to CNBC said, "It is common in Hawaii to have small parcels of land within the boundaries of a larger tract, and for the title to these smaller parcels to have become broken or clouded over time."

"In some cases, co-owners may not even be aware of their interests," Shultz said. "Quiet title actions are the standard and prescribed process to identify all potential co-owners, determine ownership, and ensure that, if there are other co-owners, each receives appropriate value for their ownership share."

The cases target a dozen small plots of so-called "kuleana" lands that are inside the much larger property that Zuckerberg bought on Kauai. Kuleana lands are properties that were granted to native Hawaiians in the mid-1800.

Some of the people who own, or who are believed to own, lands targeted by Zuckerberg's suits are descendants of the original owners of the kuleana land.

One suit, according to the Star-Advertiser, was filed against about 300 people who are descendants of an immigrant Portuguese sugar cane plantation worker who bought four parcels totaling two acres of land in 1894.

One of that worker's great-grandchildren, Carlos Andrade, 72, lived on the property until recently, the paper said. But the retired university professor told the Star-Advertiser that he is helping Zuckerberg's case as a co-plaintiff in an effort to make sure the land is not surrendered to the county if no one in his extended clan steps up to take responsibility for paying property taxes on the plots.

Andrade, in a letter to his known relatives, said he believed selling to Zuckerberg would ensure that the relatives get "their fair share" of their ancestor's investment in the property — while avoiding further dilution of the value of individual property shares due to the clan increasing in size, the paper reported.

In the same letter, Andrade estimated that a large majority of his relatives are unaware that they have an ownership stake in the land.

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