SINGAPORE - The step-family of Mustafa Centre boss Mustaq Ahmad levelled serious allegations against him on Tuesday (Oct 13), accusing him of cheating his father, his stepmother and his step-siblings so that he and wife and children could "line their pockets".
The allegations came at the start of a 34-day hearing into a suit brought against Mr Mustaq and his family by his five step-siblings and their mother, with each side accusing the other of "insatiable" greed.
The step-family, led by Mr Ayaz Ahmed, is asking the High Court for an order to wind up Mohamad Mustafa & Samsuddin Co (MMSC), the company behind the popular department store.
A liquidator should be appointed to look into the affairs and records of the company and recover any property that has been improperly dissipated before the winding up, they said.
They contended that Mr Mustaq's various wrongdoings have caused an "irretrievable breakdown" in the relationship among the shareholders.
Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, representing the step-family, said in his opening statement that Mr Mustaq "treated the company as his own domain, abusing his position with the help of other shareholders and directors and helping himself to shares and monies which were not his".
He accused Mr Mustaq of "covertly" diluting the stake that his father, Mr Mohamad Mustafa, held in the company in 1995.
After Mr Mustafa's death in 2001, his estate's shareholding was again diluted, to 14.89 per cent, while Mr Mustaq and his wife's stake was increased to 69.99 per cent, said Mr Singh.
Mr Singh contended that from 2000 to 2013, the company's average net profit for each year was about $9.6 million, but no dividends were declared during that period.
However, in that period, Mr Mustaq received between $3 million and $5 million annually in directors' fees, while his wife received between $200,000 and $400,000.
Mr Singh said his clients started discovering the wrongdoings between 2013 and 2016, and after they began asking questions, Mr Mustaq suddenly got the company to pay dividends after not doing it for 14 years.
The dividends stopped in January 2018 after the step-family filed the lawsuit in December 2017 for minority oppression, he said.
Mr Singh also accused Mr Mustaq of carrying out sham transactions to siphon money from MMSC and collecting "cashbacks" from employees after making them overstate their salaries in work pass applications.
The two sons of Mr Mustafa's business partner, Mr Samsuddin Mokhtar Ahmad, have also filed a lawsuit making similar claims and are represented by Mr Sarbjit Singh Chopra. Both suits are being heard together.
In his defence, Mr Mustaq said that he was the sole owner of the company and was entitled to conduct its affairs as he saw fit.
His lawyer, Senior Counsel Alvin Yeo, said Mr Mustaq grew the business through 50 years of hard work, and that Mr Mustafa and Mr Samsuddin did not have any say in how the business was run.
Mr Yeo said Mr Mustaq was aged 12 in 1963 when he started selling handkerchiefs and socks at a makeshift stall. His business grew and in 1971, he leased a shophouse in Campbell Lane and registered a sole proprietorship.
He said that in July 1973, when Mr Mustaq made a trip to India to visit his wife and son, Mr Mustafa and Mr Samsuddin registered the business under the name "Mohamad Mustafa & Samsuddin Company".
When Mr Mustaq returned later that year, he confronted them about this, but after being assured that the business was his alone, he decided to keep the name and added himself as a partner.
Mr Yeo said it was disappointing that the plaintiffs have "turned around to bite the hand that feeds them" after benefitting from Mr Mustaq's kindness and generosity over the years.
He said it was only years after Mr Mustafa and Mr Samsuddin died that their family members, "armed with a misguided sense of self-entitlement", went to court to ask for more money.
He said the plaintiffs have sought to rewrite the history of the company, downplayed Mr Mustaq's contributions and "conjured up serious and grave allegations for which they have offered little credible or no evidence".