Relatives of a wealthy 86-year-old retired doctor who has dementia have accused her maid and two foreign workers of enriching themselves with millions of dollars by taking undue advantage of the elderly woman.
They are now seeking to recover from Sri Lankan maid Arulampalam Kanthimathy and Indian nationals Kulandaivelu Malayaperumal and Gopal Subramanian a sum of about $5 million - which Dr Freda Paul gave them in cash between January and July of 2010.
Part of the cash was from the sale of her sprawling bungalow in Haig Road in October 2009, when it was sold for $15.4 million to a developer which has since built a 16-storey condominium on the plot. Dr Paul's relatives also want to get back another $500,000 which Dr Paul gave to property agent Parvathi Somu, who handled the bungalow sale.
But the defendants insist the money was given to them willingly by the old woman because of their friendship and care, when her relatives allegedly deserted her.
The High Court suit was filed in June by lawyer and novelist Philip Jeyaretnam, a son of the late politician J.B. Jeyaretnam, with another distant relative. Dr Paul's grandfather and Mr J.B. Jeyaretnam's grandfather were cousins.
Before her retirement, Dr Paul was a paediatric doctor at the Singapore General Hospital and an associate professor of paediatrics at the University of Singapore.
According to her relatives, a psychiatrist had diagnosed on Dec 15, 2009 that Dr Paul was incapable of making financial decisions. On that basis, they are asking the court to order the gifts that she purportedly made after that date be returned to her as she did not have the capacity to understand her actions.
In their defence, Mr Perumal, 52, and Mr Gopal, 54, said that they befriended Dr Paul in 2001 when they were working for a construction firm at a worksite next to her bungalow.
They would come over to clean her house and they kept in touch after the construction works ended.
Dr Paul, who is unmarried, was then living in the bungalow with her sister Grace, who suffered from mental disabilities, and the maid.
Both Mr Perumal and Mr Gopal claim that Dr Paul had financial difficulties and did not get help from friends or relatives. They said that they had to buy her food and even lent her sums of $500 and $1,000 from time to time.
Mr Perumal claimed that even when Dr Paul's sister Grace died in hospital in June 2009, no relative turned up. He said that he was "a great source of comfort" to Dr Paul during that period.
In September 2009, Dr Paul granted Mr Gopal power of attorney to sell the house. It was sold a month later. When the sale was completed in January, Mr Gopal paid himself $912,313, which was 6 per cent of the sales proceeds.
He also gave $1 million each to Mr Perumal and the maid, which he said was according to Dr Paul's wishes. He then bought her a smaller semi-detached house in Ceylon Road, which she moved into in early 2010, together with Mr Perumal.
In June that year, the maid was added as a joint account holder to Dr Paul's bank account.
A month later in July, $2.5 million were transferred out of the joint account, with Mr Perumal and the maid receiving $1 million each. The property agent received the other $500,000. These are part of the monies that Dr Paul's relatives are trying to recover for her.
In her filed defence, Ms Parvathi also insisted that she had cared for Dr Paul and that she had acted ethically and faithfully.
In April this year, the court revoked a will Dr Paul made in July 2010 which left the bulk of her estate to Mr Perumal and the maid, after giving $1.7 million to the property agent and three organisations and persons in India and Sri Lanka.
The court accepted that she did not have the mental capacity to make a new will and accepted a statutory will which reinstated an earlier will that she made in 2007 which leaves all her assets to the National University of Singapore Faculty of Medicine to set up a bursary fund for female medical students.
Dr Paul is now living in a nursing home. Her maid has left Singapore.
Both Mr Perumal and Mr Gopal - former work pass holders - have since obtained permanent residency. Mr Perumal is married to a Singaporean woman.
Both declined to comment when The Straits Times visited their flats in Toa Payoh and Sengkang yesterday, referring queries to their lawyer R. Kalamohan.
The case will be heard at the end of next month.