Sia Chin Sun v Yong Wai Poh (Sia Tze Ming, non-party)

CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeHoo Sheau Peng J
Judgment Date18 June 2018
Neutral Citation[2018] SGHC 142
Citation[2018] SGHC 142
Plaintiff CounselNg Hian Pheng Evans and Tan Jia Hui (LVM Law Chambers LLC)
Published date17 May 2019
Hearing Date29 November 2017,10 November 2017
Defendant CounselChristopher Anand s/o Daniel and Ang Si Yi (Advocatus Law LLP)
Docket NumberSuit No 780 of 2015 (Summonses No 4404 of 2017 and 4410 of 2017)
Date18 June 2018
Subject MatterParties,Joinder,Injunction,Stay of proceedings,Civil procedure
Hoo Sheau Peng J: Introduction

On 28 July 2015, at the age of 75, the plaintiff, Sia Chin Sun (“Mr Sia”), commenced this action against the defendant, Yong Wai Poh (“Mr Yong”), based on allegations which included the exercise of undue influence by Mr Yong. Mr Sia claimed for certain sums of money amounting to a total of $1,192,090.80, which he had transferred to Mr Yong from sometime between 2010 to 2012. Mr Sia also claimed for certain reliefs in relation to his share in a property known as 33 Club Street, #04-16, Emerald Garden Condominium, Singapore (“the Emerald Garden property”) which was transferred to Mr Yong on 12 February 2012. In response, Mr Yong admitted to receipt of certain sums of money amounting to $1,027,684 from Mr Sia, but explained that these were meant as gifts and for other purposes. He denied any wrongdoing towards Mr Sia, and disputed the claims.

Less than a year after the action was commenced, Mr Sia passed away on 24 March 2016. He left behind a widow, a daughter, Sia Tze Ming (“Ms Sia”) and a younger brother, Chua Seng Kee (“Mr Chua”). He also left behind no less than four wills. Mr Yong claims to be the rightful executor of the estate, duly appointed by Mr Sia in the second will dated 14 February 2012 (“the second will”). It is only under the second will that Mr Yong is a beneficiary, and in fact, the major beneficiary of the estate. On the other hand, Ms Sia and Mr Chua claim to be the rightful executors of the estate, duly appointed by Mr Sia in the fourth will dated 28 December 2015 (“the last will”). Under any of the four wills, as well as in the event of intestacy, Ms Sia would be a beneficiary, albeit with different beneficial interests. Separate proceedings to contest the validity of the second and the fourth wills, and to determine the rightful executor(s) of the estate, are underway, which I shall refer to as “the probate proceedings”.

Pending the resolution of the probate proceedings, there is no personal representative of the estate to be substituted in place of Mr Sia so as to carry on with the action under Order 15 rule 7(2) of the Rules of Court (Cap 322, R 5, 2014 Rev Ed) (“ROC”). For that reason, a stay of the action was ordered on 10 August 2016 (“the stay order”). On 22 September 2017, Ms Sia applied to lift the stay order, and for her to be added as a second plaintiff under Order 15 rule 6(b)(ii) of the ROC (“the application to intervene”). As a beneficiary of the estate, Ms Sia sought to intervene so as to take the necessary steps in the action to protect the assets of the estate. To that end, Ms Sia concurrently applied for an injunction prohibiting Mr Yong from disposing of his assets up to the value of $1,453,153.31 in Singapore (“the interim injunction application”), although that amount was subsequently reduced to $1,255,184 in written submissions. Both the applications were resisted by Mr Yong.

On 29 November 2017, I granted the application to intervene, lifting the stay order for limited purposes. Also, I granted the interim injunction application, prohibiting Mr Yong from disposing of his assets in Singapore up to the value of $1 million. Essentially, Ms Sia was permitted to intervene in the action, for the restricted purposes of dealing with the interim injunction application, any application to vary or discharge the interim injunction, as well as any appeal arising from the interim injunction application or the application to intervene.

On 5 January 2018, I granted Mr Yong leave to appeal against my decisions in the two applications. He has filed the appeals, and I now provide my reasons.

Background Relationship between the parties

In 1988, Mr Sia was an engineer with the Public Utilities Board, while Mr Yong was a project manager and electrical engineer of a supplier to the Public Utilities Board. Mr Yong was 14 years younger than Mr Sia. They met in the course of work, and became close friends. From sometime in 2003, they became business partners in a business known as S&Y M&E Consultants. Separately, Mr Sia owned a business known as Zhi Pin Enterprise,1 while Mr Yong owned two businesses, a real estate agency and a maid agency.2

Sometime in 2009, Mr Sia became estranged from his family. It was not disputed that for certain periods from 2010 to 2012, Mr Sia stayed with Mr Yong and his family. During this time, apart from suffering from mental illness, including depression, Mr Sia was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Sometime in early June 2012, Mr Sia moved out of Mr Yong’s home. Three years later, Mr Sia commenced the action which concerns events that occurred between 2010 to 2012. By then, Mr Sia was a man of little means. To pursue the action, he sought and was granted legal aid. Before he commenced the action, Mr Sia made a statutory declaration on 19 June 2015, setting out material facts in support of his claims.3

The pleadings

In the Statement of Claim, it was pleaded that Mr Sia started to stay with his friends to avoid any form of contact with his family. After he began staying with Mr Yong and his family in July 2010, Mr Yong denied Mr Sia’s family access to Mr Sia. Mr Sia lost contact with his family members. In June 2012, Mr Sia managed to complain to his sister about Mr Yong controlling his life, and keeping his identity card and bank cards. He also complained that Mr Yong intended to bring him to China. With the help of his family members, Mr Sia managed to move out of Mr Yong’s home.4

At this juncture, I should observe that the Statement of Claim is somewhat confusing. It contains allegations ranging from undue influence, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of trust, breach of implied terms, conversion, as well as monies had and received. It also prays for a range of reliefs. I would think that the Statement of Claim may require amendments in due course, so as to provide more clarity in the action.

Be that as it may, in the main, Mr Sia alleged that during his stay with Mr Yong, Mr Yong had exercised “great influence and control over [him]”, and “was able to persuade and/or induce [him] to carry out certain acts and/or actions for various reasons which included safekeeping and/or investing [Mr Sia’s] assets/investments/monies or grant loans to [Mr Yong] for [Mr Yong’s] maid agency business.”5

Broadly, these acts carried out by Mr Sia fell into two categories: First, Mr Sia claimed that from 21 June 2010 to 22 March 2012, a total sum of $1,192,090.80 had been transferred from Mr Sia to Mr Yong.6 This happened after Mr Sia was persuaded to include Mr Yong as a partner in what was originally his sole proprietorship, Zhi Pin Enterprise, and had made Mr Yong the sole signatory of Zhi Pin’s bank account.7 The transfers were made from either Mr Sia’s own bank account, or that of Zhi Pin Enterprise (which was controlled by Mr Yong).8 Second, on or about 12 February 2012, Mr Sia transferred his share in the Emerald Garden property to Mr Yong for the sum of $290,000. This transfer was at an undervalue. Furthermore, the sum of $290,000 was then almost immediately transferred out of Mr Sia’s bank account back to Mr Yong. Also, after he purchased his share on 4 September 2006, Mr Yong did not account to Mr Sia for the rental income from the Emerald Garden property.9

Based on the above and other particulars, Mr Sia prayed for a mix of reliefs and orders, including a declaration of Mr Yong’s liability to account to Mr Sia for “loss and damage”; an order for an account for “all or any secret profit [Mr Yong] may have earned directly or indirectly” due to the breaches; a tracing order “to trace all such monies from the hands of [Mr Yong] to such other repository as it may be found”; “a declaration as to what sums in the hands of [Mr Yong] are assets in equity of [Mr Sia] or traceable proceeds thereof”; “all due accounts and inquiries” and payment of the sum found due; an injunction prohibiting Mr Yong from disposing, dealing with or diminishing the value of his assets in Singapore; and any other further orders as the court deems fit.10

The Defence is extremely lengthy, and I summarise its key aspects. It was pleaded that Mr Sia stayed with Mr Yong from 2010 to 2012. Although Mr Yong encouraged Mr Sia’s family to keep in touch with him, they did not wish to do so. They abandoned him to the care of Mr Yong and his family. During this time, Mr Yong had to bear all of Mr Sia’s expenses, including the medical expenses.11 Shortly before a scheduled work trip to China, on or around 4 June 2012, Mr Sia’s family removed Mr Sia from Mr Yong’s home against Mr Sia’s will.12

In fact, Mr Sia trusted Mr Yong more than his own family, and wanted Mr Yong to care for him for the rest of his life.13 Thus, on 21 May 2010, Mr Sia made Mr Yong a partner of Zhi Pin Enterprise, with Mr Yong as the sole signatory of the bank account.14 Also, Mr Sia made the second will naming Mr Yong as the executor, and giving Mr Yong the residual share of the estate after some specified sums were distributed to Ms Sia and a few others.15

Mr Yong admitted that he had received certain sums of money transferred by Mr Sia, amounting to a total of $1,027,684.16 However, Mr Yong alleged, inter alia, that the monies he received were given by Mr Sia out of Mr Sia’s gratitude for caring for him, as compensation and reward, and as Mr Sia’s contribution to their shared business ventures in the course of their close friendship. Mr Sia was abandoned by his family, and was helped and supported by Mr Yong.17

With regard to the Emerald Garden property, it was pleaded that Mr Sia’s 7/20 share of the Emerald Garden property was in fact Mr Yong’s. Mr Yong transferred the share to Mr Sia as collateral for a loan of $280,000 given by Mr Sia.18 Mr Yong subsequently paid off the loan, and hence Mr Sia transferred the share back to Mr Yong. Thereafter, Mr Sia decided to write off the loan entirely, and returned Mr Yong the sum of $280,000, as well...

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    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 4 July 2018
    ...judgment had been prepared, Hoo Sheau Peng J released her grounds of decision in Sia Chin Sun v Yong Wah Poh (Sia Tze Ming, non party) [2018] SGHC 142 (“Sia Chin Sun”), where she held that Wong Moy exception only permitted a beneficiary to bring “proprietary claims to protect and preserve t......
1 books & journal articles
  • Civil Procedure
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2018, December 2018
    • 1 December 2018
    ...the Attorney-General [2018] SGHC 49, where the court dismissed an application for a stay of the hearing of a committal application. 44 [2018] SGHC 142. See paras 8.126–8.128 and paras 8.148–8.150 below. 45 [2018] SGHCR 3. 46 [2017] 4 SLR 789. 47 [2018] SGHC 8. 48 [2005] 3 SLR(R) 550. 49 Cap......

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