Posted: 27 May 2010 2340 hrs
SINGAPORE : The High Court on Thursday ruled in favour of OCBC Bank against an elderly woman who had sued the bank for freezing her bank accounts containing about S$8.9 million.
But the outcome would not have mattered to Madam Hwang Cheng Tsu Hsu. The 94-year-old woman died two weeks ago, on May 15. At that time, the hearing had been concluded and was pending a decision.
Her money, which was moved into a court account in April last year, will go to her adopted daughter, Ms Amy Hsu Ann Mei, 44, under the last will she made in August 2008.
The legal tussle began in May that year when Mdm Hwang and Ms Hsu went to the bank to open a joint account.
When the application was rejected, Mdm Hwang decided to close all her accounts at the bank. She sued the bank when it refused to comply with her request.
On Thursday, Justice Lai Siu Chiu found that OCBC Bank was not in breach of its contractual duties to Mdm Hwang.
The bank did not have to make payment out of Mdm Hwang’s bank accounts “in the circumstances that prevailed in May 2008 where there were facts which suggested a serious possibility of irregularities in the apparent instructions received by the bank”.
In court, bank officers said Mdm Hwang seemed dazed when she visited the bank and that Ms Hsu did all the talking.
Justice Lai held that OCBC Bank “admirably tried to protect the interests of Mdm Hwang but instead found itself sued in the process. By standing its ground, the bank did the right thing and lived up to its social responsibilities despite the considerable publicity generated by the trial”.
OCBC Bank said in a statement on Thursday that it “is heartened by the decision of the court as our main objective as a prudent banker had always remained unchanged, ie. to take reasonable steps to ensure that the bank acted only in accordance with our client’s valid instructions and not otherwise”.
This is not only a legal duty but also a social and moral duty to take care of and to protect our customers’ interest, especially those who are elderly, the statement said.
In court, bank officers said when they visited Mdm Hwang at her home days after she had gone to the bank, she could not remember wanting to open any joint account and gave inconsistent answers to their questions.
Aside from Alzheimer’s, which she was diagnosed with in 2004, Mdm Hwang also suffered from pneumonia, shingles and other medical problems.
In December last year, Ms Hsu was appointed by the court to continue the suit on her behalf.
When the trial opened in January this year, Mdm Hwang could not testify as her health at the time prevented her from attending court.
On Thursday, the court ordered costs for the proceedings to be paid by Ms Hsu personally to OCBC Bank, and such costs to be assessed on an indemnity basis.
– CNA/al Link
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