Court spat over $1m 'gag deal'

Court spat over $1m 'gag deal'
Madam Tan (left) paid Ms Chan (right), her stepdaughter, $1 million in 2011 not to speak or write about her or her family. But she says Ms Chan broke the pact by posting on a forum.

A widow has taken her stepdaughter to court over breaking a $1 million "gag deal" preventing the latter from discussing her family online.

Madam Eleanor Tan Kok Neo, 79, paid Ms Wendy Chan Mei Yoke, 49, the money in 2011 not to speak or write about her or her family.

Madam Tan is descended from Mr Chia Hood Theam, a prominent Peranakan and bank agent born in the mid-19th century.

She claims Ms Chan, a swimming coach, breached their agreement by posting on a Channel News Asia forum around Oct 13, 2012, regarding a discussion in Parliament on rising property prices.

Under a thread apparently entitled "Wow Ms Foo Mee Har wants to know is $1 mil HDB flat a norm in future", Ms Chan allegedly posted: "I obviously cannot comment on your bimbo statement but it is a fact that she is with stan chart. A simple google search should also bring up her position in the bank."

Ms Chan is said to have continued writing: "That aside why would people with plenty investment properties want the price of property to be more affordable? Isn't the best thing one can do in Singapore is to make money and make more and more and more at all costs?"

Ms Foo, a Member of Parliament for West Coast GRC, is Madam Tan's daughter-in-law.

It emerged in court on Wednesday that the pact was modified after mediation in 2012 to allow Ms Chan to make remarks about the family as long as they were not "defamatory, scandalous or untrue".

But Madam Tan says Ms Chan, who was born out of wedlock after her late husband Harold Chan Wah Kim had an affair, broke a verbal promise at the session to honour her "paramount concern" that Ms Chan not comment about the family at all. She also alleges that she was misled into agreeing to the amended terms.

She wants them set aside and is seeking unspecified damages and a court order against Ms Chan.

While cross-examining Madam Tan on Wednesday - the first day of the trial - defence lawyer Wendell Wong argued that no oral agreement was made at the mediation session on Sept 5, 2012, and that his client did not breach the new written terms with her posting.

Charging that Madam Tan brought the suit under pressure from her other children to show she was not taking sides, he said: "You have conflated a legal basis to come to court and an emotive desire to want (the commenting) to stop."

Madam Tan replied in English: "I really don't know, my feelings are all confused."

But she also disagreed that she was pressured to sue her stepdaughter.

Later, under re-examination by her lawyer Twang Kern Zern, Madam Tan said the original deal's conditions were not difficult to meet.

The seeds of the dispute lie in a pre-war bungalow on Lornie Road, where Ms Chan had lived with her stepmother since the age of seven.

According to court documents, Madam Tan decided to sell the property in 2011. This caused a dispute, resulting in the original agreement between Madam Tan and Ms Chan, the papers state.

The three-day trial continued on Thursday. Two lawyers present at the mediation session were expected to take the stand after Madam Tan's lawyer finished re-examining her.

pohian@sph.com.sg


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