Tong Garden siblings fight over $2m ‘loan’

Yet another dispute in snacks firm founder’s family lands in court.

Sun, Feb 22, 2009
The Straits Times

By Khushwant Singh

EVEN before the founder of Tong Guan Food Products died in 1984, his children were constantly bickering.

Then the court battles began over various issues of the family business when their mother and the wife of Mr Ong Tong Guan, Madam Chai Ah Chee, died in 1999.

In at least the fourth and latest case before the High Court, the youngest daughter, Ms Ong Siew Lay, 43, wants her brother, Mr Ong Boon Chuan, 54, to return $2 million he allegedly borrowed from her.

In court documents produced at the hearing, which started on Wednesday, Ms Ong, a housewife, maintains that her father gave her 50,000 shares in the holding company for the Tong Garden brand of nuts and snacks, which had been held for her by her mother. In 1999, she agreed to sell the shares to Boon Chuan.

She said she had then loaned the money back to him – at her mother’s suggestion – as he needed it for a property development business.

But when she asked for the money in June 2007, he denied it was hers.

‘He told me to get a lawyer if I wanted to talk to him,’ she recalled.

In his documents, Mr Ong Boon Chuan says the shares were his mother’s and she had given them to him.

In court yesterday, Ms Ong testified that her father had told her shortly before he died that she would get a 10 per cent share in the company, amounting to 50,000 shares, which her mother would hold for her.

According to the father’s wishes, three of the five sons would get 20 per cent each, as the other two had been given other gifts.

Four daughters would receive 10 per cent. The eldest daughter was left out as she had married the son of a business competitor.

The oldest brother, Leong Chuan, did not want his sisters to be involved in the business, and he bought the shares of two sisters in 1991 for $500,000 each.

Ms Ong was asked why she had not sold the shares at this time. Was it because they belonged to her mother rather than her? She denied this.

She told Senior Counsel Michael Khoo, who is acting for Mr Ong Boon Chuan, that she had held onto her shares because she knew they were ‘safe’ with her mother.

Testifying for her younger sister, Ms Ong Siew Kuan, 50, said that her mother had not been given any shares in the company – which was to spare her from the inevitable bickering between the siblings.

Her voice breaking at times, the office administrator said: ‘My father was very hurt by the behaviour of some of us and he wanted to spare my mother the same agony.

‘He told me he would leave her enough money so she would not have to depend on any of the children.’

In the last 10 years, there have been at least three legal tussles among the siblings, mainly over shares and control of the holding company.

The case in 2000 prompted a judge to call it an ‘ugly family dispute among siblings’.

The hearing continues today.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Link

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