Swee Kee chicken rice founder’s son sues brothers over house

Mr Moh Tai Siang (below) is suing his two brothers, (from near right) Royston and Freddy, over the family's Branksome Road home that was sold for $16 million in 2015.
Mr Moh Tai Siang is suing his two brothers, Royston and Freddy, over the family's Branksome Road home that was sold for $16 million in 2015.ST PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM, LIM SIN THAI
Mr Moh Tai Siang (below) is suing his two brothers, (from near right) Royston and Freddy, over the family's Branksome Road home that was sold for $16 million in 2015.
Mr Moh Tai Siang (above) is suing his two brothers, Royston and Freddy, over the family's Branksome Road home that was sold for $16 million in 2015.ST PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM, LIM SIN THAI
Mr Moh Tai Siang (below) is suing his two brothers, (from near right) Royston and Freddy, over the family's Branksome Road home that was sold for $16 million in 2015.
Mr Moh Tai Siang is suing his two brothers, Royston (above) and Freddy, over the family's Branksome Road home that was sold for $16 million in 2015.ST PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM, LIM SIN THAI
Mr Moh Tai Siang (below) is suing his two brothers, (from near right) Royston and Freddy, over the family's Branksome Road home that was sold for $16 million in 2015.
Mr Moh Tai Siang is suing his two brothers, Royston and Freddy (above), over the family's Branksome Road home that was sold for $16 million in 2015.ST PHOTOS: CHEW SENG KIM, LIM SIN THAI

He argues he should get 1/4 of sales proceeds, even though his share was transferred in 1985

The surviving sons of the founder of Swee Kee, once Singapore's most famous chicken rice shop, are in a court fight over the family home in Katong, which was sold 1½ years ago.

The third son, Mr Moh Tai Siang, 59, claims one-quarter of the proceeds should go to him, even though he had, in 1985, transferred his share of the house to second son Tai Tong, also known as Freddy, and youngest son Tai Suan, known as Royston.

The Branksome Road home was sold for $16 million in 2015.

It is Tai Siang's contention that Freddy, 61, and Royston, 58, have been holding his stake in trust for him all these years.

Their father, the late Mr Moh Lee Twee, opened Swee Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant in Middle Road in 1949. It closed in 1997.

 
 
  • $1.25m

    Size of bank loan the Moh brothers' father was guarantor of.

    $200k

    Lawyer Rajiv Nair said there was no evidence of whether $200,000 had been paid to Tai Siang in 1985.

In 1957, Mr Moh bought the house as a home for himself and his wife, their four sons and their families. He died in 1977, but his widow remained at the house until her death in 2015, while the sons, except for Freddy, moved out.

In his lawsuit, Tai Siang said he and his brothers had been given their shares of the house in the 1970s, when their father, who was potentially liable as the guarantor of a $1.25 million bank loan, decided to "re-organise" his assets.

The patriarch transferred the house to his four sons in equal shares and incorporated a firm, Swee Kee & Sons, to which he transferred the chicken rice business.

When Tai Siang faced financial difficulties in 1985, he claimed his mother and eldest brother, Tai Sing, asked him to transfer his share to Freddy and Royston to avoid putting the family home at risk. Tai Siang alleged that his mother had told him he would get his share back when he was "old" or the house was sold. The transfer was handled by a law firm. A legal document stated that $200,000 was paid for Tai Siang's share but he denies receiving the money.

Tai Sing died in a 1987 car crash. His share of the house was transferred to his widow and son in 2014.

Tai Siang said he was shocked to learn in September 2015 that the house had been advertised to be auctioned, whereupon he lodged a caveat to stop its sale. When Tai Sing's family, Freddy and Royston cancelled the caveat, he sued his two brothers.

Freddy and Royston denied they were holding Tai Siang's stake in trust for him and contended he had sold them his stake decades ago.

Yesterday, Tai Siang's lawyer, Mr Rajiv Nair, said there was no evidence of whether $200,000 had been paid to Tai Siang in 1985.

But the defence argued that Tai Siang had a gambling addiction and spendthrift lifestyle in his younger days, incurring debts for which his family had to bail him out. Tai Siang had in fact offered to give up his stake for urgent financial assistance, according to Freddy's lawyer, Mr Peter Madhavan.

Royston's lawyer, Mr Adrian Tan, also noted that when Tai Siang was made bankrupt in 1988, he declared he had no assets whatsoever. By waiting to file suit after his mother had died, Mr Tan contended, Tai Siang effectively ensured his version of events could not be disproved.

Mr Madhavan yesterday asked Tai Siang why he had never asked his mother for his share of the house back. "My mother was ill, and if the brothers are arguing, she will definitely be unhappy," he replied through a Mandarin interpreter.

The trial continues.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 19, 2017, with the headline 'Swee Kee founder's son sues brothers over house'. Print Edition | Subscribe