Yogambikai Nagarajah v Indian Overseas Bank

CourtCourt of Three Judges (Singapore)
JudgeChao Hick Tin J
Judgment Date14 August 1996
Neutral Citation[1996] SGCA 45
Citation[1996] SGCA 45
Plaintiff CounselLawrence Quahe (Harry Elias & Partners),KS Chung (Harry Elias & Partners)
Defendant CounselB Vijayan Peter (Ramdas & Wong),Shriniwas Rai (Hin Rai & Tan)
Date14 August 1996
Published date19 September 2003
Docket NumberCivil Appeals Nos 182 and 189 of 1995
Subject MatterScope of duty of bank towards its customers,Estate moneys deposited in appellant's bank account by husband,Issue of ownership of moneys,Trusts,Formalities,Accounts,Husband an administrator of estate,Costs following the event,Express trusts,Whether appellant held moneys on express trust for beneficiaries of estate,Order made against bank to release moneys to defendant,Enquiry must establish what the event was,Costs,Forgery,Whether costs should have been awarded against plaintiff,Mandate Signatures,Estate and appellant claiming moneys,Civil Procedure,Banking,No order made against plaintiff

The two appeals arose from the same facts and the appellant in either appeal was the same person. After hearing arguments from counsel, we dismissed both appeals. We now deliver our reasons.

Factual background

The appellant (known through these proceedings as `Shanti`) had in Suit 1689/91 (hereafter known as the `forgery suit`) claimed the moneys deposited in a fixed deposit account in her name in the Indian Overseas Bank (IOB) who were respondents in both appeals. This account was opened by one Anbudurai Arangannal (hereafter known as `Anbu`), who was the third respondent in the second appeal, on 24 July 1989.

The money, the subject matter in both suits, originally belonged to the estate of one ARSAR Valliappan (hereafter known as `Valliappan`). When Valliappan died intestate on 3 July 1986, he was survived by ARV Valliyammai Achi (hereafter known as `Valli`) and Rekha, his widow and infant daughter respectively. His estate, which included property and the money in dispute, was located in Singapore. Valli remained in India but her sister and brother in law were resident in Singapore. In May 1987, letters of administration of the estate were granted to the brother-in-law and sister of Valli.

By the second half of 1988, Valli had become unhappy with the way the estate was administered. She visited Singapore in November 1989 when her `suspicions` were confirmed. Upon her return to Madras, she consulted Rama Arangannal, who was a family friend as well as the head of a wealthy Madras family and a prominent politician, for advice as to whom she should appoint to replace the prevailing administrators. During that meeting, Valli requested Mr Arangannal to ask his son, Anbu, to become an administrator of the estate. Among other things, Anbu was then located in Singapore. Valli then returned to Singapore and on Anbu`s advice, saw a solicitor, Mr V Ramakrishnan, to effect the removal of her sister and brother-in-law as administrators of the estate. On 2 June 1989, Valli obtained an order appointing her and Anbu as administratrix and co-administrator of the estate replacing the previous administrators. On 8 June 1989, Valli appointed Anbu as her attorney in the administration of the estate and subsequently returned to India. On 22 June 1989, they received in their capacity as administrators the sum of $1,232,086.37. The next day, Anbu placed $1m of this sum in IOB on a one-month fixed deposit in the names of Rekha and himself. Upon maturity one month later on 24 July 1989, Anbu placed the money, including the accrued interest of $4,405.82 in a one-month fixed deposit account automatically renewable unless otherwise instructed. This account was in the name of the appellant, Shanti. The nature of Shanti`s interest in this account was the crux of these appeals.

Shanti had met Anbu in England in late 1985 or early 1986. Anbu was in England studying accountancy. Shanti was working as a visual display operator at the Royal Brompton Hospital and training to be an Indian classical dance teacher. Shanti and Anbu began courting.

In late 1987, early 1988, Anbu was instructed by his father to halt his studies in England and leave for Singapore where he was to take over the running of a trading company, AM Abdullah Sahib Trading Pte Ltd, which was owned by his father and was in some financial trouble. Anbu did as instructed and became a director of the company on 24 June 1988. His father injected new capital into the company. In August of that year, Shanti came to Malaysia on vacation with her sister. During this time, Anbu proposed marriage and she accepted.

On 2 April 1989, Shanti was accompanied by her father to Madras for the Nitchayathartham ceremony. This is the customary Hindu engagement ceremony and took place on 3 April 1989. During this time, the date of the wedding was set for 20 August 1989 and other matters ancillary to the wedding like the interchange of gifts and expenses, were also discussed and finalised. After several days, Shanti returned to England while Anbu returned to Singapore.

As noted above, the $1m from the estate together with accrued interest was placed in a fixed deposit account at IOB in Shanti`s name on 24 July 1989. In the meantime, Anbu had sent to Shanti in England a card to be filled with her specimen signatures as required by IOB to be filled out by each account holder. There are two columns on this card. Each column contains a corresponding space for signatures. The first column is for specimen signatures of the account holder while the second is for the signatures of someone who can verify the specimen signatures. The card was subsequently returned by Anbu on 2 August 1989 with both columns filled with what were purportedly the signatures of Shanti. In the proceedings below, Shanti did not dispute that the signatures in the specimen column were hers. She contended, however, that the signatures in the verification column had been forged. Anbu`s version of the story was that when the card was returned to him on 2 August 1989, both columns had been filled by Shanti. On receipt of the card, Anbu handed it to IOB.

Meanwhile, also on 2 August 1989, Shanti accompanied by her father and sister, arrived in Madras from England for the wedding. Anbu returned later from Singapore on 6 August 1989. The wedding took place on 20 August 1989 as planned and thereafter, the married couple stayed on at the Arangannal residence in Madras. During this time, Shanti conceived. The couple left Madras on 16 November 1989 for Singapore.

On 23 November 1989, Anbu prepared a handwritten note addressed to IOB with instructions that the money in the fixed deposit account in Shanti`s name be transferred to an account in the name of Valli to be held on the same terms. This note carried a signature purported to be Shanti`s. For convenience, we set out the contents of that note:

Yogambikai Nagarajah

Robinson Road

PO Box 19

Singapore 9000

The Chief Manager

Indian Overseas Bank

Cecil Street

Singapore 1646 [sic]

Dear Sir

Re: Fixed Deposit for SGD1,017,032.34

Deal Number 129786

The above deposit matures today. On maturity kindly re-deposit the above sum with accrued interest for a further period of one-month rolled over monthly at the best available rate in the following name till further notice:

Mrs ARV Valliyammai Achi

Indian Passport C 796513,

Robinson Road,

PO Box 19, Singapore 9000.

Please let us know, when the deposit receipt is ready. Thank you.

Yours faithfully

Signed: Yogambikai Nagarajah

(Yogambikai Nagarajah)

In these proceedings, Shanti challenged the authenticity of the signature on this note. As it happened, IOB upon receiving the note, followed the instructions therein and transferred the money with the accrued interest to an account opened in the name of Valli for that purpose. The sum now totalled $1,021,405.23. Subsequently, it was split into two fixed deposits of roughly equal amounts, one in Singapore dollars, the other in Deutschmarks.

On 6 January 1990, Shanti and Anbu returned to Madras to celebrate the Hindu festival `Ponggal`. Two weeks later, on 18 January 1990, Anbu returned to Singapore leaving Shanti with his parents in Madras. Against the wishes of her mother-in-law however, Shanti left Madras for London on 31 January 1990. The reason for this, according to her, was because she was homesick.

Between February and March 1990, the fixed deposits of Singapore dollars and Deutschmarks were pledged by Valli as security for overdraft facilities to Anbu.

On 11 June 1990, Shanti gave birth to a son, Aravind. By this time, the marriage had turned sour and has since ended in divorce. On 17 July 1990, IOB received the following letter from Shanti sent on her behalf by Barclays Bank:

The Manager

Indian Overseas Bank

Dear Sir

I hold a non-resident account in your Singapore Branch on Robinson Road and it has recently come to my knowledge that I have misplaced all of my documents relating to the account.

My address in Singapore was 27 Lucky Crescent, Singapore 1646, which I have now left to return to the UK.

Please find attached copies of the following documents to prove my identity as the account holder, as I do not have any documents with the account number:

Copy of British Passport number 647114C.

Copy of Singapore Dependent Pass number FIN 1521962U (type DEP).

Copy of Birth Certificate number: Y0672086.

As I have lost all relevant documents pertaining to the account, I request that all funds in my account are frozen with immediate effect until I advise further. I will also appreciate your sending me fresh details, documents and signing arrangements of the account so that I may, once again, be able to operate it.

I thank you in advance for your co-operation.

Yours faithfully



Neville Street

London SW

On 2 August 1990, Shanti had a telephone conversation with the chief executive of IOB. IOB then wrote directly to her in the following terms:

Dear Madam,

We refer to your letter of 15 July 1990 sent through Barclays Bank plc, Ickenham Branch, Middx, United Kingdom.

Our records show that you have only maintained one account with us, namely, fixed deposit account.

Enclosed herewith is a copy of your instructions dated 23 November 1989 to transfer the amount which was in your name. This was done accordingly.

We also refer to your telephonic conversation with our Chief Executive this morning and advise that in view of your instructions dated 23 November 1989, your allegations that our bank should not have transferred the amount and that you were cheated, are misconceived.

Kindly let us know if we can be of further service to you.

Yours faithfully

Sgd: KS Krishnamurthy

Senior Manager

On 3 August...

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