In a significant victory for wealthy widow Chung Khin Chun, the Court of Appeal yesterday overturned an earlier High Court decision to release about $98,000 for former China tour guide Yang Yin's legal fees.
Madam Hedy Mok - Madam Chung's niece - had last year appealed against the High Court's decision to allow Yang to liquidate two life insurance policies worth about $98,000 to pay his legal fees.
This earlier decision was made by Justice Judith Prakash in April last year.
Overturning the decision yesterday, Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin said the onus was on Yang to show he had no other source of funds to pay his legal fees.
"Nothing has been put forward by the respondent at any time to explain... how the monies were applied," said CJ Menon in his oral judgment.
The crux of the decision came down to a sum of about $4 million that Yang could not account for, said Madam Mok's lawyer Peter Doraisamy in court yesterday.
Bank statements showed that from September 2009 to July 2014, a total sum of about $5.1 million had been deposited into the former China tour guide's account. Around the same period (October 2009 to August 2014), about $4 million was withdrawn.
Mr Doraisamy said that while he had asked Yang's lawyer to explain the source and whereabouts of the money which had been withdrawn, he did not hear back from the other party on the matter.
During the hearing, Mr Joseph Liow, who is representing Yang, said he had not received payments from his client since December 2014, and asked for more time to find out where the monies had gone. However, the two judges dismissed his request.
"Mr Liow said he was taken by surprise but we do not accept that," said CJ Menon.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Mr Liow said he will be talking to his client to find out what should be done next.
Yesterday's Court of Appeal hearing marked the first time lawyers representing Yang and Madam Mok sparred in an open court.
From 2014, Madam Mok started a series of legal actions against Yang for allegedly manipulating her aunt into handing over her assets.
Madam Chung, 89, owns a bungalow in Gerald Crescent and her assets are estimated to be worth $40 million.
Yang met Madam Chung, a retired physiotherapist, in 2008 when he acted as her private guide during a China trip. A year later, he moved into her bungalow and claimed the widow wanted him to be her "grandson".
Apart from the civil court cases, Yang has been charged with falsifying receipts at his company and misappropriating $1.1 million from the estate of Madam Chung.
He has been in remand since Oct 31, 2014 after his bail application was denied.
Commenting on the outcome of yesterday's hearing, Madam Mok said: "I feel happy with what has come out. We're finally seeing some progress."