Woman loses case against brothers over parents' estate

SINGAPORE - A housewife who sued her two older brothers for depriving her of her rightful stake in their late parents' estate has lost her case in the High Court.

In a written judgment published yesterday, Justice Belinda Ang said she accepted the testimonies of Mr Lim Boh Chuan, 55, and Mr Lim Puay Koon, 54, directors of mainboard-listed hardware company HupSteel, as more credible than their sister's.

The High Court judge also found that Madam Lim Siew Bee, 52, had not come to court with "clean hands" as she had previously lied to the court that their mother had not left a will.

Madam Lim had accused her brothers of dishonesty and breach of trust in dealing with their parents' assets in a way that benefited themselves at her expense.

The siblings are the third generation of an extended family behind a business that started in 1941. Hup Seng Huat went public in 1994 and later changed its name to HupSteel.

In 1978, their father, Mr Lim Tian Siong set up Lim Tian Siong Enterprise (LTSE) as an investment vehicle to hold shares in companies including Hup Seng Huat. The patriarch died in 1983 without a will. His widow, Madam Goh Choon Eng, died in 1992.

Madam Lim claimed that the true value of her father's assets at the time of his death was $7.5 million and not $4.2 million as stated by Mr Lim Boh Chuan, who administered the estate with their mother.

She alleged that Mr Lim Boh Chuan had failed to disclose or had undervalued assets. These included three shares the brothers each held in LTSE, allotted at $1 per share in 1982 and 1983.

Madam Lim herself had inherited one-sixth of her father's stake in LTSE - as of his death, half of it went to his widow and the other half was divided equally among his three children.

She also claimed Mr Lim Puay Koon had deceived her into signing her stake in LTSE to him in 1992 by misleading her into thinking that they were worth $1.

In 1993, the Commissioner of Estate Duties valued each LTSE share at about $224,000. Madam Lim claimed that her brothers should have paid $1.3 million for them.

But Justice Ang said Madam Lim's contention that her brother had concealed the value of the shares was baseless.

The evidence supported Mr Lim Boh Chuan's testimony that the shares had been given to the brothers at a par value of $1 as part of their father's plan to involve them in the family business.

Justice Ang rejected the claim by Madam Lim, a business studies graduate, that she had signed away her stake in LTSE because she was misled by words in the document that they were "$1.00 fully paid".

Justice Ang said the statement was literally true as the amount was the face value of the share but nothing in the document suggested each was truly worth only $1.

"This was not a case of a misrepresentation against the plaintiff - this was at best a case of a misunderstanding by the plaintiff," said the judge.

 

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.