SINGAPORE – The third son of the man who founded the famous Swee Kee chicken rice shop on Tuesday (Apr 18) took his two brothers to court to fight for his share of the family home in Katong that was sold for $16 million in 2015.
Back in 1985, Mr Moh Tai Siang, 59, had transferred his one-quarter share in the Branksome Road house to second son Tai Tong, also known as Freddy, and youngest son Tai Suan, also known as Royston.
Three decades later, he is suing his two brothers for $4 million – his one-quarter share of the sales proceeds. He contended that all these years, Freddy, 61, and Royston, 58, have been holding his stake on trust for him.
The three brothers are sons of the late Mr Moh Lee Twee, who opened the renowned Swee Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant on Middle Road in 1949. Swee Kee, often regarded as the pioneer of Hainanese chicken rice in Singapore, closed its doors in 1997.
In 1957, Mr Moh bought the Branksome Road house, which was home for him, his wife and his four sons and their families. After his death in 1977, his widow continued staying there but the sons later moved out except for Freddy.
In his lawsuit, Tai Siang said that in the 1970s, his father, who was potentially liable for a $1.25 million bank loan as a guarantor, decided to “re-organise” his assets.
The patriarch transferred the house to his four sons in equal shares and incorporated a company, Swee Kee & Sons, to which he transferred the chicken rice business.
Tai Siang said that as he was facing financial difficulties in 1985, his mother and eldest brother Tai Sing asked him to transfer his share in the property to the Freddy and Royston to avoid putting the family home at risk.
Tai Siang alleged that his mother had told him that he would get his share back when he is old or when the house is sold.
The transfer was handled at a law firm. A legal document stated that $200,000 was paid for Tai Siang’s share but he denies receiving the money.
Eldest brother Tai Sing died in a car crash in 1987. His share in 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 off, so he lodged a caveat on the property to stop its sale.
When Tai Sing’s family, Freddy and Royston cancelled the caveat, he sued his two brothers.
Freddy and Royston both denied that they were holding Tai Siang’s stake on trust for him. They contended that he had sold them his stake for $200,000 in 1985.
On Tuesday, Tai Siang’s lawyer, Mr Rajiv Nair, noted that there was no evidence of whether $200,000 was in fact paid to Tai Siang in 1985.
But the defence argued that in his younger days, Tai Siang incurred numerous debts due to a “gambling addiction and spendthrift lifestyle”; loansharks turned up at the chicken rice stall and his family had to bail him out.
Freddy’s lawyer, Mr Peter Madhavan, said Tai Siang had offered to give up his stake in the house for urgent financial assistance.
Royston’s lawyer, Mr Adrian Tan, noted that when Tai Siang was made bankrupt in 1988, he declared that he had no assets whatsoever.
The defence also pointed out that Tai Siang was raising his allegations some 30 years later, after the death of his mother in 2015.
Cross-examining Tai Siang on the stand, Mr Madhavan asked why he did not ask his mother to get back his share of the house when she was alive.
“My mother was ill, if the brothers are arguing, she will definitely be unhappy,” he replied through a Mandarin interpreter.