Singapore

Court of Appeal upholds order to sell ex-SSC president’s house

The Court of Appeal has upheld an order for a house, owned by now-bankrupt former Singapore Swimming Club (SSC) president Freddie Koh and his wife, to be sold to pay off his debts of about $3.2 million.

However, in the light of the "extraordinary circumstances" presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and the "advanced age" of the couple, who are in their 70s, the court granted Madam Ooi Chhooi Ngoh a one-year period to sell the house.

The two-storey semi-detached house in Neram Road in Seletar has been estimated over the past years to be worth between $5.7 million and $7.8 million. This is the first known case in which a court application is made on behalf of a bankrupt to order the sale of a co-owned property, as opposed to one made by a non-bankrupt fellow owner.

Mr Koh owes $1.8 million to the club and $1.4 million to mortgagee DBS Bank, but he and Madam Ooi have refused to sell their house following his bankruptcy in 2016.

Last year, private trustees appointed to sell and distribute Mr Koh's assets to his creditors filed an application in the High Court for the sale of the house.

In written grounds of decision last week, the Court of Appeal said there was no difference between an application made by a co-owner and one made by the Official Assignee or private trustees in bankruptcy.

The Supreme Court of Judicature Act gives the court a general power to order a sale of property where it is "necessary or expedient" to do so, said Justice Andrew Phang, who delivered the decision.

Mr Koh's debt to the SSC arose from a dispute that started in 2009, when he was sued for defamation by four members of a previous management committee.

Madam Ooi argued that she held a sentimental attachment to the house, where she has lived for more than 42 years, and that it was also home to her second son and his family.

She also argued it was not possible to find an "equivalent property in the same area". Her arguments were rejected last year by the High Court, which ordered the house to be sold.

Justice Chan Seng Onn said the prejudice to Madam Ooi and her family was outweighed by the financial prejudice to unsecured creditor SSC, which has waited more than three years to reclaim its debt.

The Court of Appeal said the High Court judge had correctly carried out a balancing exercise of the various interests at play in determining whether a sale should be ordered.

COURT & CRIME