SINGAPORE - When a retired doctor was asked to subtract seven from 100, the octogenarian, who had dementia, answered 200.
The late Dr Freda Paul's inability to do a simple arithmetic calculation in December 2009 was one of the reasons cited by the High Court on Monday (May 15) when it found that she lacked the mental capacity to carry out acts of making gifts in 2010, when she gave away $5 million to her maid, a construction worker and an engineer.
Judicial Commissioner Debbie Ong ordered construction worker Kulandaivelu Malayaperumal to return $2 million to Dr Paul's estate. Engineer Gopal Subramaniam was ordered to return $912,000.
A default judgment had earlier been obtained against the Sri Lankan maid Arulampalam Kanthimathy, who received $2 million.
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The trio had cut Dr Paul off from her relatives and friends and made her live in unclean conditions, including sleeping on newspapers spread out on her bed.
Dr Paul, who died in August last year at the age of 87, was a paediatrician at Singapore General Hospital. She was single and her sole asset was a house in Haig Road, which was sold in 2009 for $15.4 million.
In 2001, she befriended Mr Malayaperumal, a worker at a nearby construction site, and his supervisor, Mr Subramaniam. Both were from India.
She was then living with her mentally disabled sister and her maid.
In 2007, she willed the bulk of her wealth to be used to set up a bursary fund for needy female medical students at the National University of Singapore. Four cousins in Malaysia were the other beneficiaries.
By May 2009, Mr Malayaperumal would occasionally stay over at her home.
In September 2009, after her sister died, Dr Paul told her lawyer to prepare a power of attorney, authorising Mr Subramaniam to sell the house.
After selling the house, Mr Subramaniam deposited $10 million into her bank account, gave $1 million to Mr Malayaperumal, $1 million to Ms Kanthimathy, and $912,000 to himself. He also used $2.4 million to buy a smaller house in Ceylon Road for Dr Paul.
Six months later, Mr Malayaperumal and Ms Kanthimathy each received another $1 million. Property agent Parvathi Somu, who handled the deals, received $500,000.
The maid was added as a joint holder of Dr Paul's bank account.
Around the same time, Dr Paul made a will, this time leaving most of her assets to Mr Malayaperumal and Ms Kanthimathy. There was no bequest for the bursary fund.
In 2013, her distant relatives, senior counsel Philip Jeyaretnam and Dr Ruhunadevi Joshua, were appointed to be deputies under the Mental Capacity Act to manage Dr Paul's affairs.
Suspecting she had been exploited, they went to court to reinstate the terms in the 2007 will and launched a lawsuit to recover the $5.4 million.
Mr Malayaperumal and Mr Subramaniam contested the suit in a trial this year, during which Mr Jeyaretnam took the stand.
Money recovered from them will go into the NUS bursary fund, said lawyer for the plaintiffs, Mr Herman Jeremiah.