Ridout bungalow in family row almost sold

35 Ridout Road is a prime good-class bungalow tied up in a 10-year-long family dispute. The site includes a two-storey bungalow and two single-storey outhouses. The site is large enough to be divided into four plots of GCB land.
35 Ridout Road is a prime good-class bungalow tied up in a 10-year-long family dispute. The site includes a two-storey bungalow and two single-storey outhouses. The site is large enough to be divided into four plots of GCB land.PHOTO: DTZ

New owner of 73,277 sq ft site to be revealed soon, after 10-year dispute

A PRIME good-class bungalow that has been caught up in a 10-year-long family dispute is finally close to being sold.

The new owner of the 73,277 sq ft site at 35 Ridout Road is expected to be revealed around May 22 after a tender process that attracted a top bid of about $85 million.

But it has been a fractious journey to get to this point.

The property was the family home of the late property investor Chow Cho Poon, who died in 1997, leaving his estate to his wife and three sons. His daughter was left just $1,000. However, she will get more from her mother's bequest.

Nine properties in the estate, including the office building Chow House, which is now being redeveloped into Crown at Robinson, were sold for about $175 million in 2010.

But his will sparked friction and held up its execution.

Then Mr Chow's wife executed a deed of trust and a deed of family agreement to redistribute her share of his estate as well as her own assets.

The sprawling home in Ridout Road that had been left to her was placed in a trust, which also contained shares, cash, jewellery and other objects. Her sons were to get a 30 per cent cut each and her daughter, 10 per cent.

The rest of her assets went into an estate, from which her sons would get one-third each and her daughter, $500,000.

But this just clouded the legal waters. After she died in 2002, the estates of both parents could not be settled due to outstanding debts and loans that were disputed.

Assets had mainly been tied up as shares in the companies, but this was resolved when the firms were liquidated following a court order in 2008. The death of both parents and the tangled wills ignited bitter disputes among the children that have involved many legal actions.

The daughter, Mrs Betty Sheares, sued her brothers in 2004, claiming they failed to give her any information on the administration of the trust.

In 2005, youngest brother Kwok Ching, an eye surgeon, sued the other two, claiming they acted oppressively against him as a minority shareholder in the family's companies.

The firms were later ordered to be wound up on the application of eldest son Kwok Chi, who is also an eye surgeon.

"Looking at the actions of the parties over the years, the outlook for an amicable resolution of their various difficulties with one another appears bleak," said Justice Judith Prakash at the time, adding that a clean break could benefit them all and "reduce the prospect of further litigation".

No one has lived in the house since Mrs Chow died. The three brothers live in Hong Kong and Mrs Sheares lives elsewhere in Singapore.

But that has not stopped disputes arising over it.

While some simply wanted it sold at the best market price, second son Kwok Chuen, an architect, said in an affidavit he strongly opposed the sale of the house, which was purchased by his late father in the 1950s.

"I have many fond memories of my family in the property (and) am sure my siblings share the same sentiments... It has always been my late mother's wish and intention for the property to remain within the family and preserve our family heritage," he said.

He could not buy out his siblings' shares, but asked the court to direct that the property be subdivided into four plots, with the family home retained.

The siblings also squabbled over items in the house. These included two portraits of the parents, said to have been done by the late Singapore pioneer artist Liu Kang, and 174 pieces of jewellery.

A resolution drew nearer in 2011 when Padang Trust Singapore, appointed that year by the sons as the new trustee of the trust set up by Mrs Chow, sought guidance from the High Court, including what to do with the house.

The court ordered that the property be put up for tender, with the trustee to then conduct an auction among the four siblings within a month after the tender closed to give them the right to top the highest bid.

But if any of them sought to buy the property, they were barred from using their entitlement as a beneficiary against the purchase price.

Now, more than 10 years after the death of both parents, Mrs Sheares, who is the daughter-in-law of the late president Benjamin Sheares, and her brothers stand to get millions.

The Ridout Road property was put up for tender by DTZ in March and the tender closed last month with nearly 10 bids, the highest at about $85 million. A re-tender late last month could have resulted in an even higher bid.

The site of the two-storey bungalow, with two single-storey outhouses, is large enough to be divided into four plots of good-class bungalow land, DTZ said.

wrennie@sph.com.sg