A FAMILY and a used-car dealer are taking each other to court in a dispute over a Mercedes-Benz that culminated in the luxury vehicle being towed away in front of the former's noses.
The decade-old Mercedes Benz SL350 belonged to the Tan family, who approached Mr David Peh, owner of Fivespeed Motor Trading near Clementi last October. They claim that they asked him for a loan to renew the car's certificate of entitlement (COE), which had expired the month before.
They had also planned to transfer the car's title from its jobless owner, Mr Tan Tiong Chuang, 46, to his nephew, Mr Andrew Tan, 28, a lawyer.
However, due to the complications of getting insurance for the younger Mr Tan, they transferred the car's title to 57-year-old Mr Peh temporarily so that he could use his insurance coverage as a dealer to renew the COE.
The Tans said they trusted Mr Peh would transfer the title back after the insurance matter had been resolved - but he did not do so despite repeated requests over three months.
The conflict culminated in Mr Peh going to Mr Andrew Tan's Bukit Batok condominium on the afternoon of Jan 26 and towing the Mercedes away.
Condominium security alerted Mr Tan, and the condo manager called the police. However, as Mr Peh's paperwork showed the car was in his name, the police did not intervene.
According to Mr Peh, however, the Tans sold the car to him in October for $30,000. He told The Straits Times that if Mr Tan had not been able to renew the Mercedes' COE, "his car would have been worthless and it would have been scrapped".
He said that in November, the Tans agreed to buy the car back for $129,000 after Mr Peh had the COE renewed at a cost of $67,000. After the Tans made earlier payments totalling about $12,000, they were to pay a balance sum of $20,000. But when they paid only $5,600 of this, he had the car repossessed.
Mr Peh has since sued the Tans for $81,400 - the total of the $67,000 loan and the remaining $14,400 of the balance sum - plus sundry expenses such as road tax arrears and the towing charge.
In turn, the Tans are pleading misrepresentation on Mr Peh's part, and deny that they entered into the alleged agreements to sell or repurchase the car.
Mr Andrew Tan said: "The forms we signed were all blank but we were not suspicious at the time. He said there were many details he needed to fill in and he could only do it later."
They are demanding either the return of the car or an alternative repayment of $350,000.
Of this sum, $200,000 is purportedly the value of its vintage SB81E car plate alone, which is said to be over 60 years old and is considered auspicious.
The Tans also want a breakdown of the sums they have already paid Mr Peh - totalling around $17,600 so far - as well as compensation for the loss of the car's use.
They are represented by lawyers Alfred Dodwell, Chong Jia Hao and David Gates of Dodwell & Co.
Mr Dodwell said: "The plaintiff's case is illogical and implausible and we will prove this at trial, which we expect will be in October or November."
Mr Peh is represented by Mr Liew Chen Mine of Aptus Law Corporation, who declined to comment.
The Tans have also filed a report with the Clementi police division, which said investigations are still ongoing.