Mum wins fight with son over joint accounts

Madam Lilyana Alwi, 86, is suing her son, 62-year-old Singaporean photographer John Arifin, for allegedly misappropriating at least $500,000 from their joint accounts.
Madam Lilyana Alwi, 86, is suing her son, 62-year-old Singaporean photographer John Arifin, for allegedly misappropriating at least $500,000 from their joint accounts.PHOTOS: LIANHE ZAOBAO

An 86-year-old Indonesian woman sued her eldest son over two joint bank accounts, arguing that she is the sole owner of all the money.

Her 62-year-old son disagreed, arguing that as joint account holder, he was entitled to half the money.

Yesterday, the High Court agreed with Madam Lilyana Alwi, ruling that she was the sole beneficial owner of the balance that remains in the accounts, which stood at about US$152,000 (S$207,000) last year. The withdrawals were made in various currencies.

However, the court said she failed to prove that Mr John Arifin had made unauthorised withdrawals from the accounts amounting to about $500,000.

Justice Woo Bih Li said that the withdrawals were not fraudulent and that Mr Arifin had sufficiently accounted for the money in the accounts.

The initial deposit of about US$850,000 came from the sales proceeds of an Indonesian property owned by Madam Lilyana's husband, businessman Hasan Arifin. He sold the property in 2007 before he died in 2010.

Madam Lilyana said that the money was a gift from her husband. She said the couple decided to deposit the money in Singapore and Mr John Arifin advised her to open a joint account so that he could help her manage the funds.


But Mr John Arifin said his late father told him that the money was meant for both mother and son. In 2014, she said she discovered that her son had made unauthorised withdrawals over the years.

According to court documents, there was a balance of about US$314,000 in 2014. After Madam Lilyana filed her lawsuit in 2016, she got a summary judgment to withdraw half the amount.

The disputed withdrawals include $335,000 that she said her son had duped her into paying out, on the pretext of setting up a fund for her grandchildren.

But Mr John Arifin denied he told her this. He said the sum, made in two payments, were meant to repay loans that he had extended to his late father.

Justice Woo said that in a document signed by Madam Lilyana, it was stated clearly that the two payments were for loans owing by the senior Mr Arifin to the defendant. She had accepted this at the time and it was no longer open for her to suggest otherwise years later, said the judge.

Another disputed sum involved $43,500 in payments for her credit card bills. Mr John Arifin produced a table of expenses that was signed by Madam Lilyana in 2014. Most of the withdrawals tallied with the monthly statements of a credit card in her name.

Madam Lilyana also claimed her son breached his duty as a trustee by withdrawing $60,000 for the alleged repayment of loans and reimbursement of medical expenses incurred by her or her late husband.

Justice Woo noted that it seemed Mr John Arifin was unclear as to why the withdrawal was made and that it appeared to be his wife, Madam Anna Ho, who had asked Madam Lilyana to make the payment.

But the judge said it was too late for Madam Lilyana to change her mind after paying the sum.

Madam Lilyana also took issue with another $128,590 that she said her son was unable to account for. But the judge said her calculations appeared to have failed to factor in the effect of foreign exchange rates.

Justice Woo also dismissed Madam Lilyana's attempt to get back several pieces of jewellery that she claimed she had handed to Mr John Arifin or his wife in 1998 during the racial riots in Jakarta.

Mr John Arifin said they were gifts for his wife and daughters.

Selina Lum

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2019, with the headline 'Mum wins fight with son over joint accounts'. Print Edition | Subscribe