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Tang's wife loses appeal

Straits Times June 5, 1999

No evidence of any breach of OCBC's duty to be careful and prudent in the sale of her bungalow, judges say

MADAM Teo Siew Har, the wife of opposition politician Tang Liang Hong, has lost her appeal against a High Court decision on the sale of her family bungalow in 75, Hua Guan Avenue.

The appeals court upheld a decision by Justice Chao Hick Tin and ruled that she was not justified in claiming that OCBC Bank had sacrificed her interest by not selling her bungalow earlier, before property prices fell.

Her appeal was dismissed with costs by the Court of Appeal on Tuesday.

She had appealed against Justice Chao's judgment that OCBC had not acted unreasonably over the sale of the bungalow after she and her husband failed to pay the bank $3.5 million plus interest for a loan.

The house was mortgaged to the bank in 1993 and it took possession of the property for sale in May last year. Valued at about $4.7 million in November 1997, it was sold in April for $2.97 million at an auction.

Madam Teo's case was that from January 1997, she had wanted to sell the bungalow to pay off the outstanding overdraft and stop interest from accumulating. But she could not because of a court injunction against her and her husband.

The Tangs' assets were frozen by the injunction, obtained in January 1997 by several People's Action Party leaders who sued Mr Tang, a Workers' Party candidate in Cheng San GRC, for defaming them in the last General Election.

She argued that the bank did not protect her interest in the property by failing to "exercise its power of sale" in March 1997.

In their written judgment, Justices M. Karthigesu, L. P. Thean and Tan Lee Meng ruled that there was no evidence from the facts of the case to show that there was any breach of OCBC's duty to be careful and prudent in relation to sale of the bungalow. Madam Teo's complaint that OCBC was too late in exercising its power of sale was therefore unjustified, they said.

Legal authorities showed that the bank as mortgagee had the right to decide when to exercise its power of sale. It took action to enforce the mortgage only in March last year.

And it did not take what would have been harsh and unreasonable measures to press for payments of the overdraft and interest in the first three months of 1997, the judges said.

They said: "It is with the benefit of hindsight that the appellant now says that the sale should have been made much earlier. The fact of the matter was that neither the appellant nor the respondents nor any party could have, at that time, foreseen the drastic deline in the property market which took place subsequently."

Published in the Straits Times. June 5, 1999

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