Court orders man to return $1.1m to dad's estate in feud

The Supreme Court at 1 Supreme Court Lane.
The Supreme Court at 1 Supreme Court Lane. PHOTO: ST FILE

He withdrew money through unauthorised cheques from late father's bank account

A bag containing more than $1 million that was stashed in the false ceiling of a Pasir Panjang house was among the assets brought to light in an estate feud between two brothers.

Their father, coffee-shop operator Ong Kim Nang, 80, died in May 2010. A judgment released by High Court Justice Steven Chong last Friday ordered the younger brother, Mr Ong Teck Seng, 45, to return $1,113,000 and a Rolex watch to his father's estate, which was to be split between some of the seven siblings.

The older brother, Mr Ong Teck Soon, 56, who is one of the two executors of his father's will, had taken his brother to the High Court in June last year over the withdrawal of a total of $1,113,000 through unauthorised cheques from their late father's bank account. He also wanted his younger brother to return two Rolex watches.

In his 2003 will, Mr Ong had left all the money in his bank accounts to his wife, Madam Tan Ai Cheng.

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However, the younger Mr Ong had claimed that three days before his father's death, the old man had instructed him to draw two pre-signed cheques - one for $500,000 to himself as a gift, and the other for $613,000, to be held in trust for his mother's expenses and for upkeeping the family's Guok Avenue property off Pasir Panjang Road.

Court documents revealed that the first cheque was made out to "Cash" and was banked into the younger brother's account.

The trust cheque was made out to Madam Tan and banked into a joint account she shared with the younger brother's wife.

But in July 2010, $615,000 was withdrawn and deposited into an account belonging to the younger brother and his wife.

The younger Mr Ong had said that the father had "always intended" to give him the sum of $500,000 when he passed on.

However, the older Mr Ong disputed this, bringing up an incident some time between 1992 and 1994 when he discovered over $1 million hidden in the false ceiling of their family property while repairing the water heater. The father had then distributed the money evenly between the two brothers. Therefore, there would be no reason for him to give the younger brother a further $500,000, the older brother said in his affidavit.

The younger brother's actions were brought to light only in 2011 when the estate's solicitors were preparing the schedule of assets.

Justice Chong said that he was of the view that the late Mr Ong did not authorise the issuance of both cheques. Among the reasons he gave were that the cheques were never once mentioned by the father to any of his other children, and that the gift cheque had been falsely recorded as being made out to Madam Tan in the cheque book, when it was a "Cash" cheque.

He also highlighted that funds from the trust cheque were never used for its intended purpose for the expenses of Madam Tan - who died in 2013 - and the upkeep of the family home.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 11, 2017, with the headline 'Court orders man to return $1.1m to dad's estate in feud'. Print Edition | Subscribe