High Court dismisses elderly man’s S$762,000 claim from mistress after souring of 40-year affair

SINGAPORE — For more than four decades, Mr Ng Hwee Phong had an extramarital affair and even jointly bought a landed home in the Upper East Coast area with his lover, Madam Thum Sow Chan.

When their relationship soured towards the end of 2019, she withdrew S$762,000 from one of their joint bank accounts, leaving the other half of the balance for Mr Ng.

He then sued Mdm Thum in the High Court in a bid to claw back the money.

Mr Ng contended that she was not entitled to the sum on two grounds: She had given an undertaking that she was a joint account holder in name only, and the sale proceeds of their Sennett Lane property belonged to him because she was a co- owner in name only.

On Friday (June 24), High Court judge Andre Maniam rejected these arguments and dismissed the 83-year-old man’s claim in a 38-page written judgment.

LIVED WITH HIS WIFE, CHILDREN

The couple were in a romantic relationship from the 1970s but never married.

Mr Ng already had a wife and four children when he began seeing Mdm Thum, who is now aged 80.

She told the court that she learned he was married with children only when they turned up at the Sennett Lane bungalow a few years later. Mr Ng’s wife complained of being left to live in a “cramped HDB (Housing and Development Board) flat” and demanded to live in the bungalow as well, Mdm Thum testedified.

All of them then lived together in the bungalow for a few years. However, Mr Ng’s wife and children were unhappy about Mdm Thum being a co-owner when they were not.

They then left in the mid-1980s to live elsewhere, while he and Mdm Thum continued living in the bungalow till it was sold around 2011 for about S$3.7 million. It was purchased around 1976 for S$160,000.

He and Mdm Thum then lived together in a flat located in Pine Close in Geylang. However, he was hospitalised after a fall in late 2019 and began living in a nursing home.

The proceeds from the 2011 bungalow sale went into their joint United Overseas Bank (UOB) account.

Various payments were then made, including S$1 million to Mdm Thum and S$100,000 each to three of Mr Ng’s children.

After this, S$2 million was transferred from this account to another Bank of China account, in the form of two term deposits of S$1 million each.

In March 2020, after their relationship soured, Mdm Thum withdrew S$762,000 from the Bank of China account. She explained that she had sought the branch manager’s help to divide the balance 50-50.

Mr Ng withdrew the remaining half shortly after and closed the account. He also withdrew the balance of about S$5,400 from their UOB account and closed it.

ALL ASSETS JOINTLY HELD

In his ruling, Justice Maniam said he “generally preferred” Mdm Thum’s evidence over Mr Ng’s, as it was more consistent with the written legal submissions she had made, though he called some aspects into question.

The judge agreed with her that all three assets in contention — sales proceeds from the Sennett Lane bungalow and the money in both bank accounts — were held on a beneficial joint tenancy until Mdm Thum withdrew the sum of S$762,000.

The couple had met in 1971 when she was a secretary at a multinational bank and he ran Seacon Trading Company, a business purchasing and reselling salvaged goods among other items.

While still employed at the bank, Mdm Thum helped with Seacon’s business from around 1972. She left her job and worked at Seacon on a full-time basis from around 1978.

Justice Maniam accepted that Mdm Thum was not paid for her work, such as handling Mr Ng’s correspondence and preparing accounting documents, at Seacon at any point.

Aside from this, she also traded on her own account, tendering or bidding for abandoned goods in the port and reselling them as salvaged goods, with the profits from those trades sometimes being used for Seacon’s working capital.

Mr Ng had argued that financial contributions towards the bungalow purchase were all his because Seacon was his sole proprietorship.

However, the judge ruled that money earned from Seacon’s business should be regarded as jointly earned by them, and that both had contributed financially to the Sennett Lane property.

Because of this, Justice Maniam said it was “unsurprising” that the property was held as a joint tenancy in both their names.

A transfer document contradicted Mr Ng’s claim that he had “added” her name as a joint tenant after buying the property himself.

When his wife and children expressed unhappiness about being left out, Mr Ng was content to stay on with Mdm Thum while they moved out, the judge noted. Mr Ng also gave no explanation as to why Mdm Thum was named a co-owner instead of his spouse.

LEGAL COSTS TO BE PAID

In relation to the Bank of China account, Mr Ng claimed he did not include his eldest son’s name as a joint account holder because he wanted to surprise his children by giving them money at an appropriate time, and to “seek atonement for (his) moral wrongness in having an affair.”

Justice Maniam said there was no truth to this story. During the court trial, Mr Ng disavowed all references to his moral wrongdoing.

The judge noted: “He said it was not wrong of him to have taken a mistress, ‘as long as both parties consent, then it is okay’. He went further to say that there were many unmarried women in Singapore, and more women than men, and so men could have more than one woman and not waste the women.

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