22 January 2018
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Swee Kee founder's son fails in suit for share of $16m house

Straits Times
12 Jan 2018
Selina Lum

He claimed his siblings held his stake in trust even though he had signed transfer document

One of the sons of the founder of Swee Kee, once Singapore's most famous chicken rice shop, has lost his court battle against his two brothers for a share of the Katong family home that was sold for $16 million in 2015.

Mr Moh Tai Siang, 60, had claimed that a quarter of the sales proceeds should go to him even though he had signed a document three decades ago transferring his share of the house to his elder brother Tai Tong, also known as Freddy, and younger sibling Tai Suan, also known as Royston.

The 1985 document stated that Tai Siang was paid $200,000 for his share in the Branksome Road property. However, he denied receiving the money and sued Freddy, 62, and Royston, 59, alleging that they had been holding his stake in trust for him all these years.

Yesterday, Justice Aedit Abdullah threw out his claims.

The High Court judge said Tai Siang had failed to convince him to "disregard the force of the written document", which was the only objective evidence available.

"The burden lay on the plaintiff to introduce evidence that rebutted what was recorded in the document. But what evidence he could bring in could not bring him so far," said Justice Aedit.

However, the family dispute is far from over.

In a separate case, Tai Siang has sued Freddy to claim a stake in an office building in Middle Road, which used to be the premises of the popular chicken rice shop. The property is now owned by Swee Kee Holdings, a company set up by Freddy.

The dispute over the Middle Road property is expected to be heard in April, according to Freddy's lawyer Peter Madhavan.

The father of the siblings, the late Moh Lee Twee, opened Swee Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant in Middle Road in 1949. It closed in 1997.

Mr Moh Lee Twee bought the Branksome Road house in 1957 as a home for himself and his wife, their four sons and their families.

After his death in 1977, his widow lived in the house until her death in 2015, while the sons, except for Freddy, moved out.

In the 1970s, the patriarch transferred the house to his four sons in equal shares.

When Tai Siang faced financial difficulties in 1985, he claimed that his mother and eldest brother, Tai Sing, asked him to transfer his share to Freddy and Royston to avoid putting the family home at risk.

Tai Siang alleged that his mother had told him he would get his share back when he was "old", or when the house was sold. The transfer was handled by a law firm.

Tai Sing died in a car crash in 1987. His share of the house went to his widow and son in 2014.

When Tai Siang learnt in September 2015 that the house had been advertised to be auctioned, he lodged a caveat to stop its sale. Tai Siang, who was represented by Mr Rajiv Nair, then sued his brothers after they cancelled the caveat.

After yesterday's verdict, Royston, through his lawyer Adrian Tan, said he was "grateful and relieved" at the outcome.

"We hope to have closure on this matter so that all of us can move on," he said.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.