By Selina Lum
A 92-YEAR-OLD woman who sued OCBC Bank for freezing her $8.9 million account has been ordered by the High Court to undergo an independent psychiatric test.
Madam Hwang Cheng Tsu Hsu took OCBC to court after it refused to let her touch the money, on the grounds that it had doubts about her mental capacity.
Last month, a lower court granted OCBC's application for Madam Hwang to be examined by an independent psychiatrist to evaluate whether she was mentally fit to handle her finances.
Madam Hwang then challenged OCBC's move and appealed against the decision, as well as an earlier decision rejecting her request for summary judgment - asking the court to decide without a full trial.
On Tuesday, Justice Tan Lee Meng dismissed her appeal on the summary judgment issue. Her lawyer Andrew Ee then withdrew the appeal against the issue of appointing a psychiatrist.
At the hearing, OCBC's lawyer questioned if Madam Hwang was the one driving the lawsuit.
Why is she vigorously resisting being examined by a court-appointed expert if she is indeed mentally fit to handle her financial affairs, asked Mr Adrian Wong.
'This makes no sense unless the plaintiff (or the true engine behind the suit) is afraid that she will fail a re-examination.'
Madam Hwang's lawyer had pointed out that she had already been found mentally fit by a psychiatrist and a psychologist.
A separate application by Madam Hwang, asking the bank to release $18,000 a month as household expenses, will be heard at a later date.
The sum includes $3,600 for her adopted daughter, who is her caregiver and only child; $1,000 for toiletries; and $3,000 for holidays and entertainment.
The impasse between Madam Hwang and OCBC began in May when she and her daughter, Madam Amy Hsu Ann Mei, 43, went to the bank to ask about opening a joint account. The bank refused.
The women visited OCBC again in May to close Madam Hwang's account. This was also denied.
OCBC later said it had doubts about Madam Hwang's mental capacity.
The bank said it was acting prudently and refused to accept any instructions on any of Madam Hwang's accounts until she was shown to be mentally fit.
She proceeded to sue OCBC to have her locked funds returned.
On Tuesday, Mr Ee argued that the matter did not need to go to trial, citing her earlier mental examinations.
However, Mr Wong said the reports only dealt with whether Madam Hwang was fit to make a will and not whether she was capable of handling her accounts.
He also noted discrepancies in these mental reports.
In psychiatric and psychological tests, Madam Hwang could not recall items like a book, chair or clock after five minutes.
Yet, she scored full marks for her response to the question: Tell me about the parole system in Singapore.
Mr Wong urged the court to see the case 'in its proper context', citing an article about the responsibility of banks in fraud against the elderly.
He noted that at a previous hearing, Mr Ee had indicated that Madam Hsu was not prepared to give an undertaking that the money be used only for her mother's expenses.
Assistant Registrar David Lee, who was hearing the matter, reminded Mr Ee that his client was Madam Hwang, not the daughter, said Mr Wong.
The lawyer also drew attention to irregularities in a letter from Madam Hwang authorising her daughter to act for her.
The letter was signed by Madam Hsu on behalf of her mother.
'In effect, she was authorising herself to deal with the plaintiff's accounts,' said Mr Wong.
This article was first published in The Straits Times on December 11, 2008.