Oei Hong Leong, Raffles Education boss face off in court

Raffles Education chairman Chew Hua Seng (far left) and tycoon Oei Hong Leong having a champagne toast at the house of Mr Oei's sister, Ms Sukmawati Widjaja, on Oct 16, 2017.
Raffles Education chairman Chew Hua Seng (far left) and tycoon Oei Hong Leong having a champagne toast at the house of Mr Oei's sister, Ms Sukmawati Widjaja, on Oct 16, 2017.PHOTO: COURT DOCUMENT

Tycoon suing Chew Hua Seng for allegedly reneging on promise to find buyer for shares

Photographs of businessman Oei Hong Leong and Raffles Education chairman Chew Hua Seng having champagne and shaking hands were tendered in court yesterday, as the two faced off over a handwritten document they had signed before the pictures were taken.

The note, written in Mr Chew's hand, states that he will procure a buyer for Mr Oei's shares in mainboard-listed Raffles Education at 44 cents per share within a month.

Mr Oei, relying on the record - which was rewritten, word for word, so that each side could have a copy - is suing Mr Chew for allegedly reneging on his promise.

He and his company, Oei Hong Leong Art Museum, are claiming damages of between $15 million and $26.5 million.

"A man's word is his bond. A gentleman's handshake is worth infinitely more than any signature. But not for the defendant," said the opening statement of Mr Oei's lawyers, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh and Mr Jaikanth Shankar.

"For him, promises which he penned in his own words and signed... then sealed with a handshake, count for nothing."

Mr Chew, who is represented by Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo, contends that these are only "friendly" notes and not legally binding.

The notes were signed on Oct 16, 2017, at the house of Mr Oei's sister, Ms Sukmawati Widjaja, who has been friends and neighbours with Mr Chew for almost a decade.

She had offered to host a dinner to resolve the rift between both men.

On Sept 28, 2017, Raffles Education announced that it would issue up to 95 million new ordinary shares at 30 cents per share.

Mr Oei questioned the placement, which had diluted the stake that he and his company held from 14.04 per cent to 12.88 per cent.

Mr Oei then asked for an extraordinary general meeting (EGM), calling for the disclosure of the identities of those who were issued shares and the removal of Mr Chew from his appointments.

Mr Chew said in his affidavit that Mr Oei was unhappy with the placement.

On Oct 16, 2017, Mr Oei and Mr Chew met at Ms Sukmawati's house to discuss the dispute.

After the discussions, Mr Chew composed the note with the words "Confidential Agreement" at the top and wrote that they had come to an amicable solution.

Mr Oei agreed to withdraw his request for an EGM. After both copies were signed, they shook hands and posed for photographs.

Mr Chew contends that there was no intention by the parties to enter into a legally binding agreement at the casual meeting, held to mend fences over dinner and drinks.

The note was jotted down at Mr Oei's request to show their families that they had reconciled, he said.

Mr Oei argued that Mr Chew had contrived the notion of a friendly and non-binding agreement to cover up for his "completely unacceptable" decision to conceal the price-sensitive matters in the agreement from the investing public.

The trial continues today.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 03, 2019, with the headline 'Oei Hong Leong, Raffles Education boss face off in court'. Print Edition | Subscribe