SINGAPORE – The wife and children of SA Tours’ former boss, who now has dementia, have lost their lawsuit to get back his shares in the travel agency’s parent company – valued at about $20 million – from his long-time mistress.
In a written judgment on Wednesday (Sept 18), the High Court found that Mr Ng Kong Yeam, 80, intended to benefit Madam Kay Swee Pin, 66, when he transferred 799,999 shares in Natwest Holdings to her in 2010.
Natwest was set up in the 1980s by Mr Ng, a Malaysian, to hold his Singapore assets. It owns SA Tours and a $4 million Cairnhill apartment that was home to Mr Ng and Madam Kay for two decades.
After the share transfer, Madam Kay, who originally held one share in Natwest, became its sole owner.
Mr Ng moved back with his Malaysian family in July 2013 on Madam Kay’s suggestion. He was declared mentally incapacitated by the Malaysian courts in December that year.
In 2016, his legal wife, Madam Ling Towi Sing, now 80, and children – Gabriel, 43, Irene, 55, and Iris, 47 – sued Madam Kay on his behalf, seeking to reverse the share transfer. Madam Kay’s daughter with Mr Ng, 32-year-old Eva Mae, was also named as a defendant.
The Ng family initially accused Madam Kay of fraud, alleging that she had filled in the share transfer form and lodged it without Mr Ng’s knowledge and consent.
But this claim was eventually abandoned.
At the close of trial, their main argument was that shares had been transferred to Madam Kay for her to hold in trust for Mr Ng, who was the beneficial owner.
Madam Kay, who was represented by Mr Suresh Damodara, argued that Mr Ng had given the shares to her to provide for her and their daughter.
She pointed out that she and Mr Ng managed SA Tours together and lived as a family unit for two decades.
Madam Kay submitted documents, including an e-mail from Mr Ng in 2008 stating that he would leave SA Tours to her in his will, after she alleged that he had an “affair” and a “sexual addiction”.
The plaintiffs, represented by Senior Counsel Roderick Martin, asserted that Mr Ng did not intend to benefit Madam Kay because the relationship between the two had broken down.
They submitted a letter, in which Madam Kay purportedly wrote that it was time to “move on”. On the same sheet of paper, Mr Ng replied, agreeing to her suggestion.
The Ngs also relied on a will that Mr Ng made in February 2012, bequeathing his Natwest shares to Gabriel and Eva Mae. They argued that this shows Mr Ng still saw himself as the owner of the shares.
A video recording of the will-making exercise was played in court during the trial.
In his judgment, Judicial Commissioner Vincent Hoong said Madam Kay’s version of events was inherently consistent and supported by documented evidence.
On the other hand, the judge said allegations of a breakdown in the relationship between Mr Ng and Madam Kay was unsupported by evidence.
The judge also found the letter and the 2012 will to be “highly suspicious”.
He noted: “One would not expect physical letters to be exchanged on a single sheet of paper, since the recipient of a letter would naturally reply to the sender on a fresh sheet of paper.”
As for the video, the judge said it was clear Mr Ng was “merely reading aloud the contents of the will verbatim” and the “mechanistic nature” of the exercise casts serious doubts on whether the will was a true reflection of Mr Ng’s wishes.
Contacted by The Straits Times, Madam Kay said she was extremely relieved by the decision. “My whole life was at stake – my home and my work.”