Gian Bee Choo and others v Meng Xianhui

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeTan Siong Thye J
Judgment Date31 July 2019
Neutral Citation[2019] SGHC 179
Citation[2019] SGHC 179
Docket NumberSuit No 487 of 2018
Hearing Date05 July 2019,28 May 2019,30 May 2019,29 May 2019
Plaintiff CounselKelvin Lee Ming Hui and Ong Xin Ying Samantha (WNLEX LLC)
Defendant CounselGeorge Reny Margaret and Melvyn Low Kok Keong (Belinda Ang Tang & Partners LLC)
Subject MatterFamily Law,Marriage,Nullity
Published date08 August 2019
Tan Siong Thye J (delivering the oral judgment of the court): Introduction

The central dispute is whether the marriage (“the Marriage”) between the deceased, Mr Gian Beng Hwee (“the Deceased”), and the defendant, Ms Meng Xianhui (“the Defendant”) was a sham marriage. If so, the next critical issue is whether the Marriage is valid.

The Marriage was solemnised on 20 January 2007.1 The first to fourth plaintiffs (“the Plaintiffs”) are the Deceased’s siblings. They did not attend the wedding and were completely unaware of the Marriage. The Deceased’s sudden death from a heart attack in 2017 came as a shock to the Plaintiffs. They received another shock when the Defendant turned up at the Deceased’s funeral wake and claimed to be his wife. The Plaintiffs had known the Deceased to be a bachelor before his demise. In this action the Plaintiffs seek the following reliefs: firstly, a declaration that the Marriage was a sham marriage or marriage of convenience (“the First Declaration”); and secondly, a declaration that the Deceased’s Central Provident Fund (“CPF”) moneys and all his other assets are to be distributed among the Deceased’s immediate family according to the prevailing laws, rules and regulations to the exclusion of the Defendant (“the Second Declaration”).

The First Declaration requires the court to determine whether the Marriage was a sham marriage. This is a question of fact. The Second Declaration raises important legal issues, such as whether a sham marriage is a valid or void marriage under the Women’s Charter (Cap 353, 2009 Rev Ed) (“Women’s Charter”) and whether a party to a sham marriage is a “surviving spouse” under s 7 of the Intestate Succession Act (Cap 146, 2013 Rev Ed) (“ISA”) and a “wife” under s 73 of the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act (Cap 61, 1994 Rev Ed) (“CLPA”). These provisions are relevant in determining whether the Defendant is entitled to the Deceased’s estate (under the ISA), CPF moneys (under the Central Provident Fund Act (Cap 36, 2013 Rev Ed) (“CPF Act”)) and life insurance proceeds (under the CLPA).

At the outset, the terminology used in this judgment ought to be clarified. The term sham marriage is not a term of art (Toh Seok Kheng v Huang Huiqun [2011] 1 SLR 737 (“Toh Seok Kheng”) at [17]). A sham marriage is a general term which may refer to any marriage where the parties do not genuinely intend to live as man and wife for whatever reason (eg, a marriage to further the parties’ business interests or to please their respective parents). However, the present case is not concerned with sham marriages in all its guises and forms, but only with a specific sub-species that corresponds with the definition of a marriage of convenience under s 11A of the Women’s Charter, with the following elements: the purpose of the marriage is to assist one party to obtain an immigration advantage (eg, the grant of permanent residence (“PR”) under the Immigration Act (Cap 133, 2008 Rev Ed) (“Immigration Act”)); there is gratification given, offered, or received as an inducement or reward to the other party; and the parties did not intend for the marriage to result in a genuine marital relationship. I shall refer to a sham marriage with the above elements as an “immigration-advantage sham marriage”. For short, I shall also refer to element (c) above in terms of whether the marriage was a “genuine marriage”, and references to whether a marriage was a genuine one should be read accordingly.

I shall now refer to the facts of this case.

Facts Brief background

The Deceased was a Singapore citizen. The Plaintiffs are his siblings. The Deceased passed away intestate on 23 December 2017.2 From 1973 to 2017, the Deceased, whom his family and friends regarded as a bachelor, lived with the first plaintiff (“PW1”) and his late mother at the flat in Whampoa Drive (“the Whampoa flat”).3

The Defendant is a citizen of the People’s Republic of China (“China”). She has two sons, aged 33 and 18 as of 2019, from a previous marriage.4 She first came to Singapore in 2004. According to her, she was granted a five-year permit as a “study mama” to her younger son.5 The Defendant and her younger son stayed at a five-room flat owned by her younger sister, Ms Meng Yutong (“DW2”) at Admiralty Drive (“DW2’s flat”).6

The Marriage

The Marriage was solemnised on 20 January 2007. The witnesses to the Marriage were DW2 and her then-husband, Mr Lee Chee Wah (“DW3”).7

It is not disputed that the Deceased’s family and friends were not present at the marriage ceremony and the wedding lunch thereafter.8 The only attendees were the Defendant’s relatives and a friend.9

Events after the Marriage was solemnised

Notwithstanding that they were married, the Deceased continued to live in the Whampoa flat with his late mother and PW1, while the Defendant and her younger son continued to stay with DW2 at DW2’s flat. However, the address stated in the Defendant’s Singapore National Registration Identity Card (“NRIC”) was the Whampoa flat.10 At that time, the Deceased also owned a three-room flat in Potong Pasir which was purchased in 1999 and sold in 2016 (“the Potong Pasir flat”).11 Nevertheless, the Deceased and the Defendant did not live in the Potong Pasir flat as well.

The Defendant applied for PR on 6 June 200712 and obtained PR status on 21 April 2009, which was renewed in 2014.13 She remains a PR to date.14

In or around August 2011, the Defendant returned to China. She came back to Singapore in November 2014 to renew her PR status and left for China in January 2015.15 The Deceased’s mother passed away in 2012 and the Defendant did not return to Singapore for the funeral.

The Deceased was declared a bankrupt in June 2017 by way of Order of Court No 3889 of 2017.

The Deceased’s death and funeral

The Deceased passed away intestate on 23 December 2017. His funeral was held from 23 to 27 December 2017.16

The Deceased’s niece, Ms Low Hui Ying (“PW2”), had used the Deceased’s mobile phone to send a message to all of his phone contacts to inform them of the Deceased’s demise and the details of the funeral.17 The Defendant’s sister, DW2, was one of those in the Deceased’s contacts in his phone. However, the Defendant was not in the Deceased’s phone contact list. Upon receiving the message, DW2 informed the Defendant about the Deceased’s passing and the details of the funeral.18

The Defendant turned up at the Deceased’s funeral wake on the night of 26 December 2017 at about 11pm, along with DW2, DW3, her brother-in-law Mr Jeffrey Ng (“DW4”) and her younger sister. When the Defendant informed the Plaintiffs that she was the Deceased’s wife, they were shocked as they never knew that he was ever married.19

The last ceremonial rites and cremation took place on 27 December 2017 and the Defendant alleged that she was not allowed to attend.20 At 3.44pm of the same day, the Defendant went to the CPF Board to reset her SingPass password and to enquire about the Deceased’s moneys with the CPF Board.21

On 10 May 2018, an interim injunction was granted to the Plaintiffs to restrain the Defendant from withdrawing, encumbering, disposing of, transferring, charging or otherwise dealing with the Deceased’s CPF moneys and/or his insurance policy proceeds/moneys.22

The parties’ cases The Plaintiffs’ case The Marriage was a sham marriage

The Plaintiffs contend that the Marriage was a sham marriage, relying principally on the following points: The Deceased had lived as a bachelor with PW1 and his mother at the Whampoa flat until his demise.23 He did not inform his friends, family, insurers and employers about the purported marriage. He only claimed for wife deductions in his Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (“IRAS”) forms for the years of assessment of 2009, 2010 and 2012 so as to enjoy a tax relief of $2,000.24 The Defendant could not give details of the frequency or duration of the Deceased’s alleged stays with her at DW2’s flat. Even DW4 stated that he had only seen the Deceased twice in the ten years of the Marriage although DW4 often visited DW2’s flat.25 There were no records of communications between the Deceased and the Defendant, in contrast with the records of the Deceased’s communications with other individuals retained in his mobile phone (which was produced in court). The Deceased also did not have WeChat, a popular phone application in China, which the Defendant used.26 Further, the Defendant only came to know of the Deceased’s demise and funeral because her sister was his WhatsApp contact.27 There were also no photographs of the Deceased and the Defendant taken together other than their wedding photographs, which the Plaintiffs alleged were staged to mislead the authorities.28 The circumstances of the registration of the Marriage were suspect.29 Nobody from the Deceased’s family attended and the Defendant was inconsistent in her evidence regarding whether her parents attended the wedding. Finally, it was odd that the Defendant immediately went to the CPF Board to enquire about the Deceased’s outstanding account the very same day of the cremation when she was allegedly heartbroken, upset and in no mood to do anything.30

Although the Deceased had not told his mother and siblings about the Marriage, it transpired that he had told at least three individuals about it. The Plaintiffs called them as witnesses. The first witness is PW2. She is the niece of the Deceased and the daughter of the second plaintiff.31 The Deceased and PW2 met about three times a week in 2017 after she returned from further studies in the United Kingdom. According to PW2, sometime in the middle of 2017, the Deceased informed her that he was married to a lady from China and that this was purely to help her obtain PR status in Singapore.32 The second witness is Mr Soh Keng Boon (“PW3”). PW3 was a long-time friend of the Deceased for about 20 years. The Deceased...

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