Man seeks to wind up 3 firms controlled by brother

The dying wish of a cancer-stricken businessman with eight children was for his five sons not to fight with one another so he could rest in peace.

But 22 years after the death of patriarch Lin Whan Chiu, his second son took the eldest to court, asking for the family's three companies to be wound up.

High Court judge Steven Chong, in written grounds published yesterday, granted the applications of Mr Lin Choo Mee, 58, to wind up the three companies controlled by his older brother, Mr Lim Sze Eng, 61.

In Chinese, Lim and Lin are the same ideogram.

Justice Chong accepted Mr Lin Choo Mee's arguments that the relationship between the brothers had broken down beyond repair, and Mr Lim Sze Eng had deliberately excluded him from taking part in managing the firms.

The family's business started with the operation of a petrol station and diversified into property investment, but their fortunes waned over the years.

Its income now mainly comes from the rental of a single unit in Far East Plaza. Investments in China have not generated any returns to date.

Over the years, the businesses included Tat Leong Petroleum, Tat Leong Development and Tat Leong Investment. While there were changes in shareholdings and directorships, they were always kept within the family.

In 1990, after the patriarch was diagnosed with cancer, he wrote to his five sons. He wanted his estate to be divided into seven portions. Mr Lim Sze Eng was to get two portions, with the other sons and their mother getting one each. The three daughters were to each get $15,000.

The patriarch, who died in 1992, also urged the sons to stay united. A decade later, the third and fourth sons separately sold their stakes and exited the group.

Things came to a head in 2013 when Mr Lin Choo Mee was not renewed as a director, a position he had held for three decades.

He proposed a buyout but failing to reach an agreement, went to court to wind up the companies. He contended that their father had intended for the male heirs to run the companies. He asserted that the relationship of mutual trust and confidence between him and his older brother had broken down so badly that they were no longer able to work together to run the firms.

But Mr Lim Sze Eng, founding director and majority shareholder of all three companies, argued they had been set up by him. He contended he had given shares and directorships to his father and brothers out of goodwill.

But Justice Chong accepted Mr Lin Choo Mee's testimony that it was their father who had funded the business and directed Mr Lim Sze Eng to set up the firms.

The judge gave them a 30-day grace period to come to an amicable settlement before the winding-up order kicks in.

selinal@sph.com.sg