Widow loses bid to get back $280k put into 'land deal'

Madam Lim Choo Eng (above) in a photo taken in 2012. Her husband Cheng Teck Hock died that year when a speeding Ferrari crashed into his taxi in Rochor Road.
Madam Lim Choo Eng (above) in a photo taken in 2012. Her husband Cheng Teck Hock died that year when a speeding Ferrari crashed into his taxi in Rochor Road.PHOTOS: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS FILE, LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE
Madam Lim Choo Eng in a photo taken in 2012. Her husband Cheng Teck Hock died that year when a speeding Ferrari crashed into his taxi in Rochor Road (above).
Madam Lim Choo Eng in a photo taken in 2012. Her husband Cheng Teck Hock died that year when a speeding Ferrari crashed into his taxi in Rochor Road (above).PHOTOS: SHIN MIN DAILY NEWS FILE, LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE

Wife of cabby in Rochor crash did not have any contract with woman she sued: Judge

A widow who lost $280,000 after handing it to an acquaintance to make a property investment has lost her legal bid to get it back.

Madam Lim Choo Eng's husband died in 2012 when a Ferrari crashed into his taxi and she used some of the money she received after his death to invest in a plot of land in China, giving it to Madam Koh Siew Eng - including a $50,000 deposit.

When she realised she had been tricked, she tried to sue Madam Koh for a refund - but Madam Koh contended that she was just a "mouthpiece" facilitating the transaction and had transferred the money to a third party in China who granted Madam Lim a sublease for the plot.

In a judgment yesterday, a High Court judge dismissed Madam Lim's case, even though he found she was honest and he believed her testimony more than Madam Koh's.

Justice Choo Han Teck said Madam Lim's claim for misrepresentation must fail as she had not pleaded that there was a contract, oral or written, between her and Madam Koh. "Although it seems to me that Lim appeared to have acted in reliance on Koh's representation, and might even have come to an agreement with her, none of that was pleaded and the court cannot write their contract for them."

Justice Choo will hear arguments on costs at a later date, but said he did not think Madam Lim should have to bear any legal costs for the case.

Madam Lim's husband, Mr Cheng Teck Hock, died after a speeding Ferrari ran a red light at more than 170kmh and smashed into his taxi in Rochor Road. The Ferrari driver Ma Chi also died, along with a passenger in the taxi.

Mr Ma's insurers offered payouts while public donations poured in for Mr Cheng's family.

 
 

In 2014, Madam Lim decided to invest some money through Madam Koh. The two women became acquainted through their sons, who were friends. Madam Lim said Madam Koh claimed to be a successful investor and offered her a joint investment opportunity to buy land in China which was to be redeveloped and sold for profit.

Between March and August 2014, Madam Lim transferred more than $280,000 to Madam Koh and Madam Koh's sister. In August 2014, Madam Lim and Madam Koh flew to China to meet Mr Lu Jinlin, who was supposed to lease the land from a village committee. He did not show Madam Lim the land because of "bad weather" but she was assured by Mr Lu and Madam Koh that she would get a stake. In March 2015, Mr Lu came to Singapore and signed a document granting Madam Lim a 70-year sublease for part of the land.

Madam Lim did not get any more information about the deal and said it was only in 2017 that she realised Madam Koh did not invest in it.

Madam Koh said Madam Lim was always aware that she was only an agent; she denied having made claims about a joint investment. She said the money was transferred to Mr Lu and his family between April 2014 and October 2016.

Madam Lim's lawyer, Mr Renganathan Shankar, argued that Madam Koh had orchestrated the entire scheme as she was aware of Madam Lim's finances. He argued that Madam Lim was entitled to rescind the contract or to damages.

But Justice Choo said Madam Koh was not a party to the sublease, a contract between Madam Lim and Mr Lu. The judge added that the sublease was "highly suspect".

Unfortunately, the authenticity of the document was not challenged, nor did Madam Lim check with the land owners as to whether her sublease was recognised.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2019, with the headline 'Widow loses bid to get back $280k put into 'land deal''. Print Edition | Subscribe