'Pay ex-wife $7.5m in 4 weeks or be jailed 8 months'

A Singaporean businessman was given four weeks to cough up $7.5 million, which he owes his former wife, failing which he will have to spend eight months in jail.
A Singaporean businessman was given four weeks to cough up $7.5 million, which he owes his former wife, failing which he will have to spend eight months in jail. PHOTO: ST GRAPHICS

Chief Justice slams businessman worth $14m for his blatant defiance of court order

SINGAPORE - A Singaporean businessman with $14 million in known assets has four weeks to cough up $7.5 million, which he owes his former wife as her share of their matrimonial assets and maintenance, failing which he will have to spend eight months in jail.

Zheng Zhuan Yao, 53, who breached various court orders relating to his divorce over 1 1/2 years, was yesterday handed what is believed to be the stiffest punishment for disobeying court orders.

In sentencing him, the Court of Appeal said his conduct exceeded the gravity of those in two separate precedent cases of contempt of court, in which sentences of six months' jail were imposed.

"What strikes us here is that the respondent's actions are characterised by a continuity in his acts of defiance," said Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, as he delivered the decision of the three-judge court.

He noted how Zheng had parked his assets with his family members and effectively forced his ex-wife out of the matrimonial home, a Stevens Court apartment, which was sold by the bank when he defaulted on mortgage payments.

His actions were "directed at denying the wife her fair share of the matrimonial assets" .

When the case first came before the court in July, Chief Justice Menon had said that was "one of the most egregious cases" of refusal to abide by court orders in a divorce that warranted substantial jail time.

Zheng, formerly known as Tay Chuan Yao, is the son of Indonesian tycoon Tay Jui Chuan, also known as Tay Juhana, whose Sambu Group makes coconut products.

He ended his 27-year-old marriage to Madam Mok Kah Hong, 52, in 2010. They have a son in his 20s. Zheng has two other children with his mistress.

He was ordered to pay $1.15 million in maintenance and $7.05 million for her share of matrimonial assets, including the $4.25 million Stevens Court apartment.

He was ordered to pay the mortgage on the apartment and transfer the property, debt-free, to his wife.

But he flouted the order and the bank sold the flat for $3.5 million, of which Madam Mok received only $650,000 as the bulk was used to pay his other debts.

She started contempt of court proceedings against him for his repeated breaches of court orders, to force him to comply.

Yesterday, her lawyer Bernice Loo argued that Zheng, who still owes her client $7.5 million, should be jailed until he pays up.

She argued that he had no remorse about being in contempt and had been given ample opportunity to comply with the orders.

Zheng's lawyer R.S. Bajwa said his client did not have the money to pay.

He said Zheng has not been able to sell his $1.8 million property in Indonesia. There have also been no takers to buy his shares in various family companies.

In the end, while the appeal court - which also comprised Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang and Justice Steven Chong - imposed eight months' jail on Zheng, it gave him a final chance by suspending the sentence for four weeks, to enable him to take steps to comply.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2015, with the headline ''Pay ex-wife $7.5m in 4 weeks or be jailed 8 months''. Print Edition | Subscribe