Nephews and niece take on uncles in Genting Bhd family dispute
This article first appeared in Issue 1131 (Oct 10) of The Edge Malaysia
A feud has broken out in the Lim family, who control the multibillion ringgit gaming and leisure company Genting Bhd.
Joey Lim Keong Yew, Benjamin Lim Keong Hoe and Marie Lim Seok Leng — children of the late Datuk Lim Tee Keong and grandchildren of the late Tan Sri Lim Goh Tong — are taking legal action against their uncles, Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay (left) and Datuk Lim Chee Wah (right).
Tee Keong was Goh Tong’s eldest son while Kok Thay and Chee Wah are the second and youngest sons. Kok Thay is chairman and chief executive of Genting Bhd but Chee Wah holds no position in any of the Genting companies. They have three older sisters.
Court documents obtained by The Edge show that two matters are being contested.
The first is the will of Tee Keong, who was a bankrupt when he died on April 14, 2014.
The second is the removal of Keong Hoe and Seok Leng as beneficiaries of the Tee Keong Family Trust, a discretionary trust set up by patriarch Goh Tong in 1990 for his son and his family. Goh Tong also set up six other trusts, including one called the Lim Kok Thay Trust and Puan Sri Lim (Goh Tong’s wife) Trust.
Court documents reveal that Tee Keong, who was married to Agnes Tan Bee Gaik, also had two children — Kenneth Lim Keong Wye and Katherine Lim Seok Yan — with one Joanne Fok.
Tee Keong’s will The main issue revolves around Tee Keong’s sons Keong Yew and Keong Hoe not being named as beneficiaries in his will, and the two are challenging its validity.
Their mother, Tan, was given 10% of Tee Keong’s estate and their sister Seok Leng another 10%, but the bulk was left to his children with Fok — son Keong Wye was left 60% and daughter Seok Yan was given 20%.
Tee Keong’s will was signed on March 11, 2014, about a month before he died. Kok Thay and Chee Wah are executors of the will.
In their lawsuit against their uncles, Keong Yew and Keong Hoe noted that the will was prepared by Lai & Lai Partnership and the two witnesses were Tan Chui Lin — an advocate and solicitor with Lai & Lai — and Gerard Lim Ewe Keng. A Dr Chong Khah Shin had attested to Tee Keong’s mental capacity at the time of the execution of the will.
Keong Yew and Keong Hoe stated that Lai & Lai have been Genting group’s lawyers for many years. The principal partner of Lai & Lai, Joseph Lai, is on the board of Kien Huat Realty Sdn Bhd, which has 39.76% equity interest in Genting Bhd. They also stated that Ewe Keng is an employee of the Genting group.
As such, the two brothers allege that all three are beholden to Kok Thay and Chee Wah, who have wielded total or substantial control over the Genting group since Goh Tong passed away in 2007.
In their affidavit of defence, Kok Thay and Chee Wah said that the services of Lai & Lai were used at the request of Tee Keong, adding that Chong was a close and trusted friend of the late Tee Keong, and Ewe Keng was a mere witness to the will.
Keong Yew and Keong Hoe also questioned why Tee Keong intended to provide for the beneficiaries via a will when there were no substantial assets available as Tee Keong was a bankrupt, and any existing asset would already have been vested in the offi cial assignee.
Kok Thay and Chee Wah, in their statement of defence, stated that the “reasons why a testator would make a will are irrelevant to whether or not such a will is valid”.
According to the court documents, Tee Keong had incurred heavy stock market trading losses and was forced to quit as director of various Genting companies in 1999. In 2003, he was declared a bankrupt over RM208 million owed to unsecured creditors.
Tee Keong’s sons also alleged that if Tee Keong’s estate were to inherit assets after his death, the priority would be to pay off the creditors, unless Tee Keong was discharged as a bankrupt. They alleged that both Kok Thay and Chee Wah were the driving force behind attempts to discharge Tee Keong from bankruptcy after his death.
Keong Yew and Keong Hoe also said that Tee Keong’s will allows his estate to inherit property that Goh Tong’s wife, Puan Sri Lee Kim Hua, will or may pass on to Tee Keong upon her death, including any shareholding, direct or indirect, in the Genting group.
Lee has a 16.67% stake in Parkview Management Sdn Bhd, which in turn has 94.21% equity interest in Kien Huat Realty, Goh Tong’s flagship company, which has a 39.76% stake in Genting Bhd.
Other shareholders of Parkview Management are Ewe Keng with 33.34%, Kok Thay with 16.67%, Amaline (M) Sdn Bhd — a company controlled by Kok Thay — with 16.67%, and company secretary Roselind Niap Kam Lian, who holds 16.67%.
Lee’s 16.67% stake in Parkview is worth billions, considering Genting’s market capitalisation is close to RM30 billion. On its website, Genting says that as at Feb 23, 2016, its group of companies have a combined market capitalisation of over RM101 billion.
Genting controls several choice assets in Singapore, Hong Kong, Europe and the US. The other listed companies it controls include Genting Malaysia Bhd and Genting Plantations Bhd, which are both listed in Kuala Lumpur; Genting Singapore PLC, publicly traded in the island republic; and Genting Hong Kong, which was floated in Hong Kong (see chart). For the six months ended June 2016, Genting Bhd registered a net profi t of RM425.57 million from RM8.93 billion in revenue.
In their affidavits, Kok Thay and Chee Wah questioned why their two nephews are bringing up Lee’s will as she is still alive. They also say that as Goh Tong did not leave Tee Keong anything in his will, they had doubts Lee would in hers.
In denying Keong Yew and Keong Hoe’s allegations, Kok Thay and Chee Wah also said that Tee Keong was not close to the two sons.
Kok Thay and Chee Wah said that it was Kok Thay who accompanied Tee Keong for his medical appointments and it was Kok Thay and Chee Wah who paid the bill for Tee Keong’s funeral and not his sons.
The uncles alleged that Keong Yew had, in fact, only returned from Hong Kong on the last day of Tee Keong’s wake before the funeral, while Keong Hoe only visited Tee Keong at the behest of Kok Thay.
In a nutshell, the contest over the will is that Keong Yew and Keong Hoe contend that Tee Keong’s will should be set aside and that he left no enforceable will upon his death. They also allege that the will was written to ensure that the defendants could consolidate their control of Genting Group.
In their defence, Kok Thay and Chee Wah dismissed the allegations as baseless.
The Tee Keong Family Trust The second dispute stems from Goh Tong setting up the Tee Keong Family Trust under a trust deed dated May 18, 1990, between Quah Chek Tin and Infoline Sdn Bhd, whereby the trust holds one portion out of three of Goh Tong’s Malaysian residual assets.
Infoline, where Chee Wah is director and shareholder, is a trustee of the Tee Keong Family Trust. Goh Tong was guardian and appointor of the trust and upon his death was succeeded by Amaline (M) Sdn Bhd, where Kok Thay is director and shareholder. The appointor is the person with the power to appoint and dismiss the trustee, while the guardian is someone who has the right to be informed and approved of decisions made by the trustee.
While it is not clear what assets Infoline manages in trust for the Tee Keong Family Trust, his son Keong Hoe and daughter Seok Leng were removed as “discretionary beneficiaries” of the trust.
Keong Hoe and Seok Leng contend in their lawsuits against Infoline and Chee Wah that the Tee Keong Family Trust was created and established for the benefit Tee Keong, his family members — including the plaintiffs — as well as his descendants. They further allege that they were wrongfully removed as beneficiaries.
In July 2014, Keong Hoe wrote to the trustees to obtain a copy of the trust deed to ascertain his and his children’s rights and entitlements but on Aug 19, the trustee replied, stating that he had been removed as a beneficiary of the family trust.
Keong Hoe asserts that he was never informed about the removal and via an email dated Oct 3, 2014, objected to the removal and demanded a copy of the trust deed. Not receiving any response, he commenced legal proceedings.
Keong Hoe only found out in January 2015 that his removal as a benefi ciary of the family trust was with eff ect from March 18, 2014, just a month before Tee Keong passed away.
In December 2015, Seok Leng wrote to the trustee — to obtain a copy of the trust accounts to ascertain her and her children’s rights and entitlements under the family trust.
With no response from the trustee, Seok Leng wrote in again, giving a deadline to reply of Jan 18, 2016, fi ve days after her request. The trustee’s silence resulted in Seok Leng commencing legal action.
In the course of the proceedings, she discovered that she had also been removed as a beneficiary of the family trust.
Keong Hoe and Seok Leng contend that their removal as beneficiaries was wrongful and unlawful.
In its statement of defence, Infoline says that Yap, via a letter dated Aug 19, 2014, had informed Keong Hoe that he was no longer a beneficiary of the discretionary trust after the defendant exercised a discretion on March 18, 2014.
Basically, Infoline did not respond to Keong Hoe as it was “not obliged under the discretionary trust deed” to provide a copy of the trust deed.
Infoline also said that it had no obligation under the discretionary trust to inform Keong Hoe and Seok Leng of their removal as beneficiaries nor to disclose the reasons.
Interestingly, Infoline, in its statement of defence, also said that it had provided, upon request, the discretionary trust deed on Oct 8, 2015, to the court, which should clarify the situation.
It also stressed that it had at all times acted within its powers and in good faith as a trustee under the terms of the trust.
Ranjit Singh & Yeoh are representing Keong Yew and Keong Hoe in their lawsuits against their uncles over the will, while the defendants are represented by Chooi & Co.
Izral Partnership are representing Keong Hoe and Seok Leng in their lawsuits against Infoline and Chee Wah over being dropped as beneficiaries of the trust, while the defendants are represented by Shafee & Co.