Court hears contrasting cases of sibling rows

Reluctance in filing lawsuit in one case, eagerness in other, both property-linked

While a sibling spat in one case landed in court as a last resort, rival siblings in a separate case went to court in numerous suits over endless quibbles.

The two cases, for which the High Court issued judgment grounds on the same day, contrasted reluctance and eagerness in filing lawsuits involving siblings.

In one, Judicial Commissioner Audrey Lim said of two feuding brothers, one of whom had faulted the other for being slow to sue: "The parties are not commercial parties dealing at arm's length; they are brothers. Litigation would naturally be a last resort, as once they escalated their dispute to such a level, the damage done to their relationship would be hard to repair."

In that case, Mr Cheong Woon Weng had approached his younger brother, Kok Leong, several times for about nine years to sell a condominium unit they had jointly agreed to buy as an investment in 2000. The Hillview Avenue unit, bought for $880,444 and now worth about $1.3 million, was registered in Kok Leong's name as Woon Weng had just bought a Housing Board flat and was ineligible.

Woon Weng, a retired renovation contractor, had contributed $200,000 with his wife and sought to be updated by Kok Leong on several occasions. Kok Leong, a company managing director, rented out the unit and, between 2007 and 2010, paid Woon Weng $87,000 as dividends from the rent.

But Woon Weng became upset on learning in 2011 that Kok Leong had moved into the unit. By then, the relationship had broken down and, in 2014, Kok Leong allegedly offered $500,000 for his brother's share but failed to fulfil the offer.

Woon Weng, represented by lawyers Loh Kia Meng and Quek Ling Yi, then sued his brother, seeking to claim his beneficial share in the property. Kok Leong, defended by lawyers Gregory Fong and Fong Chee Yang, disputed the claims and countered that the $200,000 was a friendly loan. He pointed out that he had settled the mortgage and paid his brother $320,000 in total over the years, and counterclaimed for the return of $120,000.

The judge found that both parties had intended and agreed to jointly invest in the unit on terms broadly set out in an oral agreement. She noted that the defence had "made much" of the fact that Woon Weng did not sue his brother at a much earlier time and she accepted his explanation for the delay.

She dismissed Kok Leong's counterclaim and ordered that the unit be sold and the proceeds be shared equally after due deductions.

In the second case, surviving estate executor Foo Jhee Tuang, 55, was ordered to account to the plaintiff siblings for the rent of a family property in Lorong Marzuki from the time he took over the property in 2012 to the time it was sold to a developer for $5.8 million in 2013. Justice George Wei noted in his grounds of decision that the suit was triggered by the two other siblings, Mr Foo Jee Boo, 45, and Madam Foo Li Li, 57, and arose from a "longstanding dispute among a few siblings over the estate of their late parents and late brother".

He noted that their deep-rooted grievances against one another had spilt over to the courts over the years. He called for closure and urged them to drop the animosity and move on with their lives.

Veteran lawyer Manoj Nandwani, who represented Jhee Tuang, said the parties' relationship was "very acrimonious".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on December 04, 2016, with the headline 'Court hears contrasting cases of sibling rows'. Print Edition | Subscribe