Mustafa Centre boss not taking the stand in lawsuits; lawyers submit 'no case to answer'

Mr Mustaq contended that he was the patriarch who had provided for his extended family over the years. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - The joint hearing of two lawsuits against Mustafa Centre boss Mustaq Ahmad and his family has come to an end after lawyers for the defendants asserted that there was no need for him and others to give evidence.

In a rare move, lawyers for Mr Mustaq and the other defendants told the High Court they would be making a submission of "no case to answer".

This means the defendants are contending that the plaintiffs have not provided sufficient evidence to make out the key elements of their claims, and the defendants, therefore, do not need to call evidence of their own.

The trial, which began on Oct 13 and was heard over 20 days before coming to an end on Monday (Nov 9), saw more than 20 witnesses testifying for the two sets of plaintiffs, including three experts.

Both lawsuits centre on Mohamed Mustafa and Samsuddin Co (MMSC), the company behind the popular department store in Syed Alwi Road.

Apart from Mr Mustaq, the other defendants are Mr Mustaq's wife, Madam Ishret Jahan, their children, Shama and Osama, and Madam Ishret's brother Iqbal. All five are directors of the company.

One suit was brought by Mr Mustaq's stepfamily, who are represented by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh and Mr Jaikanth Shankar.

The other was brought by two sons of Mr Mustaq's late business partner, Mr Samsuddin Mokhtar Ahmad, who are also his distant cousins. They are represented by Mr Sarbjit Singh Chopra and Mr Sean La'Brooy.

The plaintiffs have accused the defendants of wrongfully diluting the interests of Mr Mustaq's father, Mr Mohamed Mustafa, and Mr Samsuddin, paying themselves excessive directors' fees and misappropriating money.

The plaintiffs claimed the company's affairs had been conducted in a way which is oppressive to their interests as minority shareholders.

Mr Mustaq, who is represented by Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo and Ms Koh Swee Yen, contended that he was the patriarch who had provided for his extended family over the years.

He alleged that the lawsuits were driven by greed for more assets and money, and were filed after his father and Mr Samsuddin, who died in 2001 and 2011 respectively, can no longer testify.

MMSC was incorporated in 1989 by Mr Mustaq and Mr Samsuddin. Mr Mustafa and Madam Ishret were later added as shareholders and directors.

Between 1989 and December 2001, Mr Mustaq's stake went from 51 per cent to 61.25 per cent, while Mr Samsuddin's stake went from 30 per cent to 15.12 per cent.

Mr Mustafa's initial stake was 19 per cent but, after his death, the proportion held by his estate became 14.89 per cent.

In December 2017, Mr Mustaq's stepfamily, led by Mr Ayaz Ahmed, sued the defendants.

Mr Ayaz said it was after he engaged a consultant to look into the company's affairs in 2016, that he found out about "wrongful" share allotments in 1995 and 2001 which increased Mr Mustaq's shareholdings.

Mr Ayaz, his brothers, Ishtiaq and Maaz, and their mother, Asia, who goes by one name, were among the 14 who gave evidence. Other witnesses included forensic accounting expert Owen Hawkes and valuation expert Mark Collard.

In August 2018, Mr Samsuddin's sons, Fayyaz and Ansar, also sued the defendants.

They are claiming a one-third share of the Mustafa business empire as well as assets owned by Mr Mustaq in various countries.

A total of 14 witnesses testified, including forensic accounting expert Chee Yoh Chuang.

The case has been adjourned for written submissions to be filed by Jan 11 next year, and Judicial Commissioner Mavis Chionh is expected to give her verdict on March 8.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.