Widow wins appeal to wind up company in family feud

A trading company whose accounts clerk swindled four firms out of more than $46 million - one of the highest monetary losses in Singapore's financial crime history - has been wound up by the Court of Appeal.

Richard Tiang Teng Hoong, 69, was jailed for 18 years last month after a court heard he used the bank accounts of the four offshore firms, which were managed by Double Ace Trading, to embezzle the funds between January 2007 and March 2014.

Double Ace, the company ordered to be wound up, was part of an international business empire formed by Datuk Seri Wong Tuong Kwan, one of Sarawak's richest men, who died in 2004.

Double Ace was set up to trade in spare parts used by Mr Wong's businesses but had been dormant since 2011 when his son Wong Kie Nie, who ran the firm, fell ill.

Mr Wong Kie Nie died in 2013, leaving his widow, Madam Kathryn Ma, as executrix of his will. But a family feud ensued, with 69 lawsuits filed in Malaysia, the British Virgin Islands and Singapore.

Madam Ma applied to wind up the three companies which formed the Singapore section of the business empire run by her late husband - Double Ace, Trillion Investment and Faxlink Trading.

She claimed the businesses were no longer operating for their underlying purposes.

However her late husband's brothers Kie Yik and Kie Chie and Kie Yik's son Patrick opposed her moves and denied her claims, arguing the relationship of mutual trust in running the companies had only been among the Wong brothers.

She had claimed this relationship with her brothers-in-law broke down after her husband died.

The High Court dismissed her applications last year, but in January this year she launched an appeal with a fresh set of lawyers from Rajah & Tann led by Mr R. Chandra Mohan.

The respondents - defended by lawyers Michael Palmer, Reuben Tan and Amanda Chen - contested her claims before agreeing that Faxlink should be wound up as it was dormant.

However, Madam Ma's lawyers argued that the two remaining companies, Trillion and Double Ace, could no longer serve their underlying purposes and should be wound up as it was just and equitable to do so.

The court rejected her appeal in relation to Trillion, finding it could continue to fulfil its "substratum" which was to invest in real estate.

But the court allowed her appeal in relation to Double Ace, finding it had been dormant since 2011 as shown by its drop in revenue.

The court found some aspects of Double Ace's financial affairs unclear as seen by inconsistent explanations submitted by Mr Wong Kie Yik, director Ong Kim Siong and Tiang. The court held it was "unlikely" that a fair and proper valuation of Double Ace could be carried out without a thorough probe into the company's financial records and activities.

"A liquidator with the appropriate powers under the (Companies) Act could achieve this and would be, indisputably, a neutral party," wrote Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash on the court's behalf in decision grounds released on Wednesday.

 

The court made clear it did not place any weight on Madam Ma's reliance on the fact that Tiang was being probed by the Commercial Affairs Department.

"We noted that Mr Tiang was not being investigated for any impropriety in relation to Trillion or Double Ace," said the court.

Tiang joined Double Ace in 1990 and his job involved preparing payment vouchers and recording the movement of funds. A court heard he embezzled funds from the four offshore companies and gambled them away, placing weekly bets of over $100,000 with Singapore Pools and visiting the casino at Resorts World Sentosa about three times a week.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2019, with the headline 'Widow wins appeal to wind up company in family feud'. Print Edition | Subscribe