Tycoon loses lawsuit against children over gold bars willed to them

He transferred ownership of gold to his wife in 2016 and sought their return after she died

A retired Indonesian-Chinese businessman, who sued four of his children for the return of 122 gold bars that had been willed to them by his wife, has lost his case in the High Court here.

Mr Soemarto Sulistio bought the gold bars, each weighing 1kg, with his wife Soemiati in 1989 using money they had in their joint account at United Overseas Bank in Singapore.

The gold bars were initially held under their joint names, but in 2016, Mr Sulistio, now 87, signed certificates to transfer ownership to his wife. She died a year later and he found out she had bequeathed the gold bars to four of their five children.

After an unsuccessful challenge to her will in Hong Kong, he sued the four. Mr Sulistio claimed the signing of the certificates did not change the couple's initial common intention to hold the gold bars as joint assets.

He contended that as the remaining survivor, he was the beneficial owner of the gold bars. His claims were dismissed by Justice Valerie Thean.

In a written judgment yesterday, the judge said there was no dispute that the couple initially had a common intention to hold the gold bars for their joint benefit. However, she found that there was "sufficient and compelling evidence" of a change in their intention in 2016.

Justice Thean found that Mr Sulistio signed the certificates as part of a wider agreement between the couple - Madam Soemiati had asked for the gold bars in exchange for allowing older son Rudy to manage their land in Indonesia.

Mr Rudy was specifically left out of Madam Soemiati's will and took his father's side in the suit.

The judge said Madam Soemiati "wished to secure the gold bars for her own purposes and if she were to die without using the gold bars, she wished to benefit the defendants".

Mr Sulistio and Madam Soemiati married in the 1950s and had three daughters and two sons. The couple lived in Hong Kong.

Their daughters said their parents' marriage broke down in 2012, partly due to Madam Soemiati's "difficult relationship" with Mr Sulistio's nurse, Mr Lee Yan Wo.

Eldest daughter Yetty said Madam Soemiati was upset that she had been bullied by Mr Lee, and Mr Sulistio did not do anything to stand up for her.

The judge accepted the defendants' contention that the transfer of the gold bars was part of a deal in which Madam Soemiati was trying to guarantee her financial security.

Madam Soemiati, who was seriously ill with mounting medical expenses, was concerned her assets with Mr Sulistio were being depleted as large sums of money had been transferred to Mr Rudy from joint accounts she held with her husband.

Mr Rudy did not challenge receiving about US$7.2 million (S$9.5 million) between 2010 and 2016, and at least US$1 million remains unaccounted for, according to the judgment.