SINGAPORE – After his father’s death in 1974, Mr Neo Aik Soo became the de facto head of the family even though he was the second-oldest among 12 siblings.
He provided his siblings with money whenever they needed it from his earnings as a broker, substantial lottery winnings and astute property investments.
One such investment was a shophouse in Keong Saik Road that was bought in 1991 at $370,000 and sold in 2017 at around $8.1 million.
But he and two of his siblings had a falling out over the transaction, with the three siblings – who are all in their 70s – going to court over the ownership of the property.
According to Mr Neo, he had purchased the shophouse with his own money, and was therefore the beneficial owner of the property and entitled to its sale proceeds.
Mr Neo’s older brother, Mr Neo Aik Siong, and younger sister, Ms Neo Geek Kuan, claimed that the shophouse had been purchased by the older Mr Neo with family funds.
They also claimed that Ms Neo – whose name the shophouse was registered in – was pressured into signing documents authorising the younger Mr Neo to sell the shophouse.
Last Friday (Nov 29), Judicial Commissioner Mavis Chionh ruled in favour of Mr Neo Aik Soo, finding that such family funds did not exist and that Ms Neo had voluntarily signed such documents.
According to court documents, Mr Neo Aik Soo grew his wealth through his work as a broker servicing “high net-worth individuals and companies”. He also had lottery winnings of $400,000 in 1973 and investments, including properties along Oxley Road.
Through this wealth, the younger Mr Neo was able to provide his siblings with money, including paying for renovations to one sibling’s flat and financing his niece’s overseas university education.
Mr Neo Aik Soo said he got Mr Neo Aik Siong to assist him in his investment activities, including being his agent in various property transactions to help his older brother, who had not been successful in business ventures and frequently racked up debts.
Sometime in 1991, the younger Mr Neo decided to acquire the shophouse at Keong Saik Road. He claimed that he had put the property in Ms Neo’s name as he wanted to “shield” some of his assets from any potential creditors, should the trades that he was carrying out as a broker go badly and expose him to personal liability.
In December 2016, Ms Neo signed a statutory declaration recognising Mr Neo Aik Soo as the beneficial owner of the shophouse. She also gave him power of attorney to act on her behalf to sell the shophouse and to receive the sale proceeds.
A third party, He Yi Investments, purchased the property for around $8.1 million on May 25, 2017.
According to Mr Neo Aik Soo, neither sibling had raised any objections when he marketed the shophouse for sale. He was therefore surprised when they made a claim to the property in June 2017, with Ms Neo filing a Deed of Revocation of the Power of Attorney on June 20, 2017.
The older Mr Neo claimed that the monies in the joint bank account used to purchase the shophouse were “Neo family monies” accumulated through years of investment activities that he was overall in charge of.
Ms Neo alleged that she had signed the statutory declaration and gave the power of attorney under duress. She also claimed that Mr Neo Aik Soo had “physically abused” her, and two other siblings had also “constantly pressured” her to transfer her interest in the shophouse to the younger Mr Neo.
The court also heard how Mr Neo Aik Siong had lodged a caveat on the property in December 2016, which the younger Mr Neo only discovered in February 2017 in the process of trying to sell the shophouse.
In her judgement, Ms Chionh said she was unconvinced by the arguments made by Ms Neo and the elder Mr Neo. She also found that the elder Mr Neo “was making up his evidence as he went along”.
She ordered that proceeds from the sale of the shophouse that had been held by the court pending the dispute’s resolution be released to Mr Neo Aik Soo, with interest.
Mr Neo Aik Siong and Ms Neo Geek Kuan have appealed the decision.