Pawnbroker sues 3 customers over $275k overpayment

Maxi-Cash realised it had made a calculation error six months after it compensated three customers for misappropriation of their gold bars. It is suing them for unjust enrichment after they refused its demand for repayment.
Maxi-Cash realised it had made a calculation error six months after it compensated three customers for misappropriation of their gold bars. It is suing them for unjust enrichment after they refused its demand for repayment.ST FILE PHOTO

It miscalculated compensation for five gold bars stolen by employee

Singapore's first public-listed pawnbroker, Maxi-Cash, is suing three customers to get back $275,000 it mistakenly overpaid them after the gold bars they pawned were misappropriated by an employee.

Ms Chen Qiaodong, Mr Keok Su Seng and Ms Belinda Ho Geok Eng had bought five gold bars at $95,000 apiece on the same day from now-defunct gold investment firm Genneva.

They pledged the bars the next day at the Maxi-Cash outlet in Northpoint Shopping Centre for loans of $55,000 per bar, making a total of $275,000.

Five days later, a Maxi-Cash employee took the gold bars to sell so that he could repay his gambling debts.

When the trio found out, they demanded compensation from the pawnbroking chain. Maxi-Cash agreed, and paid them $95,000 per gold bar, making a total of $475,000.

Six months later, it dawned on the pawnbroker that it had overpaid the trio. It had not taken into account the $55,000 loans they had taken out, which meant it had actually paid out $150,000 per bar. When the three refused its demand for repayment, Maxi-Cash sued them for unjust enrichment.

The trial opened on Tuesday.

The pawnbroker's lawyer, Mr Wendell Wong, said in his opening statement that the three should not seek to profiteer when Maxi-Cash was trying to rectify their loss.

"The defendants received a windfall and are simply feigning ignorance so that they can retain the windfall," he said.

He added that Maxi-Cash had no reason to pay a "manifestly exorbitant and commercially illogical" sum of $150,000 per gold bar when the market price then was about $63,500.

The defendants' case is that there was no mistake, and that the agreements they signed were a full and final settlement of all claims between them and the pawnbroker.

On June 26, 2012, the three, with money pooled from friends and relatives, had bought the gold bars from Genneva, which ran a gold buyback scheme and later went bust. Ms Chen's aunt and Mr Keok's wife worked for Genneva at the time.

The gold bars were pawned separately the next day: Ms Chen pledged three, and the other two, one each. Mr Keok's wife later found out from a newspaper report that the gold bars had been misappropriated. On July 11, Maxi-Cash signed agreements to pay $95,000 per bar as a goodwill gesture even though it was legally required to pay a smaller sum. It said it realised its mistake only in January 2013.

The ex-employee who took the gold bars and other valuables is serving a five-year jail term.

selinal@sph.com.sg