A Hainan clan association, recently in the news over a biting incident at a biennial vote of its leaders, is now involved in a court showdown over allegations of slander in the lead-up to a previous election.
Senior lawyer and former Member of Parliament Sin Boon Ann, an honorary adviser to the Hainan Tan Clan Association, is suing two past presidents and a past deputy president for defamation.
Mr Sin, 57, is seeking unspecified damages from the trio for alleging, on four occasions in August and September 2013, that he had abused his position as adviser to push for his elder brother Sin Boon Wah to become president.
The association, which has about 900 members, is a society for members of the Hainanese community with the Chinese surname Tan.
Although anglicised differently, Mr Sin's surname shares the same Chinese character.
Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin and former MP Tan Boon Wan are also honorary advisers to the society.
The events that led to the defamation suit unfolded in the run-up to the December 2013 elections. The three defendants are past president Tan Boon Hai, 74; then president Tan Han Kwang, 82; and past vice-president Tan Khin Pang, 83.
On the first day of trial yesterday, the High Court heard that in June 2013, Mr Sin had invited the trio for lunch to talk about leadership renewal. He suggested that the elders step down and form a council to guide a younger leadership.
According to the three, Mr Sin also suggested that his elder brother be appointed president. Mr Sin Boon Wah, 63, belonged to the camp opposing the trio's faction.
Mr Sin's advice was rejected by the executive committee.
In August, after hearing rumours of what was being said by the trio, he met them at his Drew & Napier office, where he told them he had not put his brother up as president, nor suggested doing away with elections. At this meeting, which he secretly recorded, he told the trio that the advisers would withdraw their support if the leadership did not get their house in order.
Subsequently, the defendants allegedly continued to say that Mr Sin had told them elections were not necessary and that his brother was to be made president.
Mr Sin, represented by Senior Counsel Jimmy Yim, contends they meant he had abused his position and advised them to contravene the society's Constitution requiring elections to be held.
The defendants' lawyer, Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, argued that his clients genuinely believed Mr Sin was taking sides with his brother. Eventually, the post of president went to Mr Tan Kia Kok, who is from Mr Sin Boon Wah's camp.
He was reappointed in the recent elections last December, after the defendants' camp staged a walkout.