'Jail my brothers for contempt of court'

Stripped of his director's powers in a high-performing construction firm, a sibling wants his two brothers jailed for disobeying a court order - given three years ago - that would have reinstated his powers and given him access to key company information.

The High Court found both Mr Ho Seow Wan's elder and younger siblings, Poey Wee and Seow Ban, guilty of court contempt after an eight-day hearing earlier this year, and ordered both sides to address the court later this month on whether they should be jailed, fined or reprimanded.

Justice Chan Seng Onn said in decision grounds released yesterday that he had found beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr Ho's brothers had deliberately disobeyed the order given on Aug 1, 2012, through several intentional acts.

All three brothers were directors and shareholders of Guan Ho Construction, run as a family business and whose significant projects included the National University Hospital, the Singapore Indoor Stadium and Singapore Sports School.

But the relationship between Mr Ho Seow Wan and the two soured, leading to a directors' meeting in 2012 which cut off his executive and administrative powers in the company. An extraordinary general meeting was also slated for March that year to remove him as a director of Guan Ho.

Mr Ho Seow Wan then sued for alleged minority oppression, in which the majority party acts unfairly to prejudice the minority party.

The claim is pending before the High Court, so in the interim, he obtained the court order that would restore his powers as a director.

His lawyer Lynette Chew from Morgan Lewis Stamford argued that his powers as director had been curbed through e-mails and notices, such as his right to written statements of the final accounts and an update on tender information. Among other acts that breached the court order - in the months after it was made - was a new company organisation chart that excluded him.

But lawyer Anna Oei countered for the defence that he was in essence a mere figurehead with no real powers, and that the actions in question therefore did not breach the court order.

Justice Chan made clear that "as long as the (court) order stands, the plaintiff is entitled to have them respected and obeyed by the defendants.

"The only course of action available to the defendants, if they are concerned with the conduct of the plaintiff and any disruption to operations or damage to economic interests that may be caused to Guan Ho, is to seek to have the order discharged, set aside or stayed.

"Therefore, it is no answer to the plaintiff's allegations to say that the order had to be breached, so as to uphold Guan Ho's commercial interests."

The judge added that the court order "turns not on whether the plaintiff was a mere figurehead, but on whether he had previously been exercising any powers as an executive director without hindrance".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2015, with the headline ''Jail my brothers for contempt of court''. Print Edition | Subscribe