Businessman loses $11.4m dividend suit

Businessman loses $11.4m dividend suit

Despite going through much trouble to get an elite, senior British lawyer to represent him, a businessman has lost a bid to get some $11.4 million in dividends allegedly due to him.

Mr Ng Chee Weng, 64, a founding shareholder of SinCo Technologies, was represented by Queen's Counsel Geraldine Andrews in his case against the company's director, Mr Bryan Lim, and his wife in the High Court here.

Mr Ng, who transferred all his shares to Mr Lim in 2002 but claimed it was only a paper transfer, had argued that Mr Lim held the shares on trust for him between 2002 and 2007.

It was not until 2007 that he actually sold his shares to Mr Lim, he claimed.

Mr Ng had thus argued that he is entitled to dividends from the shares declared and paid in the period.

But last week, Justice Judith Prakash ruled in favour of the defendants, represented by Drew & Napier Senior Counsel Cavinder Bull and lawyer Woo Shu Yan.

They were pitted against Ms Andrews, 54, now a High Court judge in London, who is the first QC in 20 years to be involved in a full trial in the High Court here.

She is also the first QC admitted to argue a High Court case here after admission laws were tweaked in 2012.

This was to give the courts more discretion to admit QCs or their equivalents from other countries if they had special qualifications or experience for the purpose of the case.

Those who wish to hire these foreign lawyers also have to show that they tried but failed to get local senior lawyers, among other criteria. Still, Ms Andrews, helped by lawyer Vijay Kumar, could not win the suit for Mr Ng.

In a 64-page judgment released last week, Justice Prakash said she could not accept "the picture that (Mr Ng) sought to portray of himself as a simple and naive man".

"Although the defendant's version has its unsatisfactory aspects as well, there is enough in their story to make me doubt that (Mr Ng)'s case has a genuine basis," she said.

Justice Prakash further ruled that Mr Ng had failed to prove that he sold his shares to Mr Lim only in 2007. Therefore, Mr Ng could not sue for the $11.4 million dividends of the preceding years.

"There are too many gaps in his evidence, and some of the propositions he wishes me to believe, like... that he never thought of asking why dividends were being regularly declared but never paid out, are too far-fetched."

During the eight-day trial in March last year, Mr Ng claimed that Mr Lim had offered $4.5 million after settlement talks, which he accepted in March 2009.

But Mr Lim countered that he bought Mr Ng's shares in 2002, and denied there was a trust. He argued that there was no settlement but even if there was one, Mr Ng had repudiated the deal and Mr Lim had accepted his move.

In turn, Mr Ng claimed that if there was indeed no binding settlement, then Mr Lim had held dividends worth some $11.4 million for him.

In her judgment, Justice Prakash noted that there was hardly any document to show if there was an agreement between the parties, other than a text message, some notations of a calendar and some e-mail messages.

" In this situation, the credibility of the witnesses comes to the fore." The judge also found "on balance" that Mr Ng did accept the $4.5 million settlement agreement, but later repudiated the deal.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

This article was published on April 26 in The Straits Times.

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