Cho Yaw’s niece sues estate of ex-hubby

She says he had hidden US$25m from her during divorce proceedings

22 Nov 2011

(SINGAPORE) Some seven years after the man she had divorced died, a woman is suing the executrix of his estate to claim her share of assets that, she says, he hid from her.

The two sides have pointed fingers squarely at each other.

Before he married Anna Wee Chiaw Sek, niece of United Overseas Bank chairman Wee Cho Yaw, Ng Hock Seng did not have substantial means, Ms Wee’s lawyers alleged.

During their marriage, he failed to contribute financially to the family, they said. His various business ventures failed to take off, including The Colour Shop at Wisma Atria, which closed after one year of operation.

As a result, Ms Wee became the sole provider for the family in 1990 through a Malaysian company she co-founded called Equipage Sdn Bhd, which supplied and installed institutional equipment and auditorium seats. She also gave Mr Ng a supplementary credit card and paid for his travel and holiday expenses, her lawyers claimed.

And when Mr Ng was diagnosed with tongue cancer in 1993, she paid his medical bills as well as other alternative treatments in China.

Ms Wee’s lawyers say that he was verbally and physically abusive. The couple divorced in 2000.

Yet, after his death in 2004, Ms Wee said that she discovered he had amassed assets that he funnelled into four Channel Islands, Jersey-based trusts (1999 and 2002 BNP Trust, ML Hock Seng Trust and ML Hock Trust) in an effort to defraud her ‘even from beyond the grave’.

These allegations came to light in opening statements filed yesterday by Ms Wee’s lawyers, Senior Counsel Indranee Rajah, Alex Toh and Angeline Tan of Drew & Napier LLC, at the start of a five-day trial in High Court.

Ms Wee, who is in her 50s, is now suing the executrix of the estate of her late husband and BNP Paribas Jersey Trust Corp to recover what she claims is her rightful share of the US$25 million he allegedly hid from her prior to their divorce.

She accused her husband of pretending to be poor so that she would not ask for a division of matrimonial assets at the time of their divorce.

Ms Wee is now claiming that she is entitled to assets in the 1999 and 2002 BNP Trusts, of which her two children, Joshua and Azura, and Mr Ng’s daughter from his first marriage, Genevieve Ng Li-Ann, are beneficiaries.

But Ms Ng, the executrix of Mr Ng’s estate, disputed Ms Wee’s claims, calling it a ‘claim by a disgruntled divorcee … seeking more than five years after the death of her former husband and more than 10 years after the grant of a decree nisi (April 27, 1999) to reopen matters which were settled in divorce proceedings.’

Ms Ng said that the deed of separation showed that Ms Wee had entered into a ‘binding compromise with (Mr Ng) . . . (in) which it was agreed that neither would make a claim for the division of the other’s assets’.

‘The Divorce petition . . . dated 21 October 1998 . . . did not include any claim for the division of matrimonial property,’ said Ms Ng.

In addition, Ms Wee had accepted a lump sum settlement from Mr Ng in December 1998, which ‘compromised her rights to any further claim against his assets’, BNP Paribas said in its opening statements.

But Ms Wee disagreed. In fact, several months before their divorce, Mr Ng allegedly entered into two lucrative contracts with Meissner & Wurst Sdn Bhd, in which he received payments of about US$25 million, she said.

Mr Ng acquired offshore companies during the divorce proceedings to receive those funds, which he allegedly intended to put out of her reach.

According to Ms Wee, Mr Ng snagged the deal because she had introduced him to Jurgen Josef Ertl, then managing director of M&W Malaysia and Jim Burnett of InterConnect Sdn Bhd, both of whom were involved in the setting up of the 1st Silicon wafer foundry plant in Sarawak.

But Ms Ng disagreed, saying that the M&W monies were not matrimonial assets as the bulk of the funds were acquired after the making of the decree nisi, which she claims is ‘the usual cut-off point for the determination of matrimonial assets’.

According to Ms Wee, the four trust funds were used as collateral for several purposes including getting credit facilities, as well as residential properties at Ocean Park in Singapore and Four Seasons, Jakarta.

She said that she first learnt of the existence of the 1999 BNP Trust and the Hock Seng Trust two months after Mr Ng’s death. She discovered the other two trusts in April 2009.

Ms Ng said that her father had discussed the 1999 BNP Trust with Ms Wee in 2003, and that she was informed of the setting up of the 1999 BNP Trust and Hock Seng Trust by Merrill Lynch and BNP Paribas in August 2004. But despite having the information, she didn’t take legal action until 2009.

According to BNP Paribas, Ms Wee failed to identify which assets she claims are matrimonial assets in the two BNP Trusts, and which assets she is entitled to.

In arguing that a remedial constructive trust wasn’t needed, BNP Paribas said that Ms Wee had said her two children had ‘wanted (her) to have what is rightfully (hers).’


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