Sons of Swee Kee founder in tussle over $16m home

Sons of Swee Kee founder in tussle over $16m home

Three sons of the man who founded the famous Swee Kee chicken rice shop are embroiled in a court fight over the family home in Tanjong Katong, which was recently sold for $16.3 million.

One of them, Mr Moh Tai Siang, 58, denies selling his one-quarter share in the house for $200,000 while suffering financial difficulties in 1985, and claims his two brothers are holding it in trust for him.

In a High Court suit filed in November last year against his brothers Tai Tong, 59, and Tai Suan, 56, he contends that he is entitled to his portion of the single-storey Branksome Road bungalow.

It sits on 13,844 sq ft of freehold land, which went under the hammer on Sept 30 for $16.3 million - the highest auction price of last year.

In papers filed in court, Tai Tong and Tai Suan contend that no such trust exists. Both allege that Tai Siang had delayed legal action until after their mother's death in April so she could not refute his claims.

Prior to the sale, the registered owners were Tai Tong, Tai Suan and the wife and son of their eldest brother Tai Sing, who died in 1987.

The property was bought by the brothers' father, the late Mr Moh Lee Twee, in 1957.

Mr Moh was the founder of the now-defunct Swee Kee, which operated from a Middle Road shophouse from 1949 to 1997.

The shop was often considered to be the pioneer of Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore.

In 1974, Mr Moh gave one-quarter of his house to Tai Sing. The patriarch, his wife and Tai Sing held three-quarters in trust for the other sons, then minors, in equal shares.

When Mr Moh died in 1977, his widow, Madam Wong Ah Heng, and Tai Sing continued as trustees.

In 1985, Tai Siang was facing financial difficulties.

That year, Madam Wong and Tai Sing transferred the three-quarter share to the three brothers, meaning that the four brothers each had a one-quarter stake.

On the same day, Tai Siang transferred his stake to Tai Tong and Tai Suan, who each got a one-eighth share. Contract documents stated that he was paid $200,000 for selling his share.

Separately, after Tai Sing's death, his one-quarter share went to his widow and son. Tai Tong lived in the house with their mother until her death.

In October last year, after the house was put up for auction, Tai Siang lodged a caveat against the house, claiming his brothers were holding his share in trust.

He cancelled an earlier caveat he had lodged, based on an alleged agreement by Tai Tong to transfer one-eighth of the property to him.

After the four owners applied to cancel his second caveat, Tai Siang sued his brothers, seeking his alleged share of the house.

He also sought a quarter of the sales proceeds, in the event that the house is sold before the share is transferred.

In his suit, Tai Siang is represented by Mr Chia Kok Seng and Mr Rajiv Nair. Tai Tong is represented by Mr Peter Madhavan while Tai Suan is represented by Mr Adrian Tan.

Four days after he filed the suit, Tai Siang applied for a court order for his brothers to put up security of $4 million - the value of his alleged share. Otherwise, he argued, his caveat should not be cancelled and his share could not be sold.

The High Court dismissed his application last month, but parties are expected to make further arguments on the issue this month.

This article was first published on Jan 2, 2016.
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