Court dismisses man’s suit against dad over family’s supermarket business

The judge noted that the son, who has a master’s degree, never once put the purported agreement with his father into writing. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - After his family’s supermarket business closed down, a man made a series of demands against his father for monies and assets, and threatened to air their dispute in public.

Mr Kwek Hong Lim sued his father, Mr Kwek Sum Chuan, alleging that the older man had orally agreed to give him a 60 per cent stake in both Yes Supermarket and the Tampines property that was used to run one of the outlets.

The older man contended that he never made such an agreement.

The High Court on Thursday dismissed the lawsuit, saying that the son failed to prove that his father had made the oral agreement to give him the stakes in the company and the property.

Justice Hoo Sheau Peng said in her written judgment that she did not find the son to be a credible witness.

“The plaintiff has shown a tendency to exaggerate facts. Despite his threat that he has collected all the facts and video evidence... to support his case, nothing cogent has been produced at the trial,” she said.

The judge also noted that the son, who has a master’s degree, never once put the purported agreement into writing.

“Although he says he asked the defendant many times to put the agreement into writing, those were all verbal requests.

“Even if the defendant had refused to do so, the plaintiff could have followed up with a written request. There was none,” she said.

Mr Kwek Sum Chuan, who has five children, set up Yes Supermarket in 1999. He owns 85 per cent of the company, while his wife holds 5 per cent.

Mr Kwek Hong Lim owns 8 per cent of the company and his sister, Ms Kwek Joo Sim, holds 2 per cent.

In 2003, the father bought the first-floor unit that was used to run the outlet in Tampines Street 21.

The plaintiff was appointed chief executive officer of Yes in 2004.

He said he was made CEO based on his contributions and that the business boomed with him at the helm.

The father, however, said the plaintiff asked to be made CEO, and he agreed as he wanted to groom his son.

The son claimed that in 2011, he decided to take up a job offer with a Malaysian company, which offered him a better pay package.

He said that when he tendered his resignation, his father offered two sets of terms to retain him, the first of which is to make him a director of Yes and to transfer 6 per cent of the shares in the company to him.

He said his father also offered to give him another 60 per cent of the shares in Yes and 60 per cent of the properties purchased for the business, in five years’ time.

The son said he tore up his resignation letter and accepted the offer right away, thus forming an oral agreement.

He said that in 2012, he was made a director and his shareholding increased by about 6 per cent to fulfil the first set of terms.

But the father said both Ms Kwek and the plaintiff were appointed as directors as he wanted his children to play a larger role in the management of the company.

The son said he asked his father on multiple occasions for the agreement to be recorded in writing. One such discussion purportedly took place on Dec 21, 2015, and the son submitted a video recording as evidence.

The father said he was simply talking about his plans for distributing his assets and did not intend to create any legally binding agreement.

Their relationship deteriorated significantly by March 2018.

The father alleged that the son’s mismanagement caused the company to incur significant losses. In May 2018, all the shareholders resolved to end the supermarket operations.

The father said he offered the son $3 million to buy out his shareholding in the company, but the son asked for $15 million. He said the son threatened to sue him and to publicise the dispute.

In June 2018, Chinese-language newspaper Shin Min Daily News ran an article about the son’s allegations.

In court, the son presented several pieces of evidence to support his version of events, including the letter of offer from the Malaysian company, the video recording of the 2015 meeting and the Shin Min article.

But Justice Hoo said the son failed to prove the authenticity of the letter of offer and the video clip, which showed 4 minutes and 38 seconds of a meeting that lasted for two hours.

The newspaper article was based entirely on the son’s version of events, and it was self-serving for him to now rely on it to establish the existence of the alleged oral agreement, the judge added.

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