Estate of businessman killed by father-in-law loses court tussle for luxury watch , Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Estate of businessman killed by father-in-law loses court tussle for luxury watch

The administrators of the estate of businessman Spencer Tuppani, who was fatally stabbed by his father-in-law in 2017, have lost a civil suit filed against his parents to recover a luxury watch he was wearing when he was killed.

The suit was brought by Mr Tuppani’s wife Shyller Tan Cheng Cheng, her sister Sherry Tan San San and Mr Tuppani’s first wife Felicia Keh Lay Hong.

The defendants were Mr Shamlal Tuppani Bisaysar and his ex-wife Tham Poh Kwai.

The administrators sought to get back the Richard Mille watch or, alternatively, a sum of $389,205.13.

Mr Shamlal Tuppani had handed the watch to his son’s long-time mistress Joan Yeo Gek Lin.

The administrators alleged that Ms Yeo then handed the watch to Madam Tham, who sold it. But the dead man’s mother denied having ever received the watch.

Despite the role she played in this narrative, Ms Yeo, who has two children with Mr Spencer Tuppani, was not sued by the estate administrators.

The businessman’s mistress, who was named as one of the witnesses for the dead man’s father, had sworn an affidavit stating that the watch was handed to Madam Tham.

However, Ms Yeo did not take the witness stand during the trial, even though Mr Shamlal Tuppani issued a subpoena to summon her to court. No reason was given for her absence.

In a written judgment published on Dec 14, District Judge Jonathan Ng said Ms Yeo’s absence was legally significant because it meant that her affidavit did not form part of the evidence before the court.

Thus, there was no credible evidence to rebut Madam Tham’s testimony that the watch was never handed to her.

Ms Yeo’s absence also led Judge Ng to infer that the version of events in her affidavit was untrue.

The judge said the adverse inference was warranted because the administrators had failed to call or subpoena Ms Yeo as their witness, after it became clear that she would not be taking the stand for Mr Shamlal Tuppani.

Mr Spencer Tuppani was stabbed by his father-in-law, Mr Tan Nam Seng, on July 10, 2017.

After the 38-year-old collapsed at Boon Tat Street, Mr Tan told passers-by not to help his son-in-law. He then waited for the police to arrive.

Mr Tan was upset with Mr Tuppani for the way he treated Ms Shyller Tan. He also believed his son-in-law had cheated him of his shipping business.

The 76-year-old was sentenced to 8½ years’ jail in September 2020, after he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of culpable homicide. The jail term was backdated to his date of arrest.

The Straits Times learnt that Mr Tan has been released from prison.

On July 11, 2017, a day after Mr Spencer Tuppani died, his father collected his personal belongings from the police.

Mr Shamlal Tuppani, who was represented by Mr Joseph Ignatius, said he handed these items to Ms Yeo on the same day because he was “very distraught” and “traumatised” by his son’s death.

He said Ms Yeo subsequently told him that she had handed the watch to Madam Tham.

Judge Ng concluded that at the point in time when Mr Shamlal Tuppani handed the watch to Ms Yeo, the man did not consider the question of who was entitled to the timepiece.

The judge said Mr Shamlal Tuppani’s act of handing the watch to Ms Yeo was “capable of innocent explanation”, noting that Ms Yeo was in a long-term relationship with Mr Spencer Tuppani and that she was seen as the “closest” to him at the time.

The administrators’ lawyer, Ms Anna Oei, had put it to Mr Shamlal Tuppani during the trial that he handed the watch to Ms Yeo because he considered her to be his son’s wife.

Said Judge Ng: “The point I make here is that Joan was not a stranger to the deceased. In the transitory state of affairs back then, she was not someone who, to a lay person, was clearly not entitled to receive the watch.”

Madam Tham, represented by Mr David Nayar, denied ever having come into possession of the watch.

On the other hand, Ms Shyller Tan testified about two phone calls where she heard Madam Tham over speakerphone admitting to taking the watch and selling it to someone named “Tony”.

The two phone calls were said to have taken place in 2020, while Ms Shyller Tan, Ms Yeo and Ms Keh were taking a break from a mediation session.

Judge Ng said this aspect of Ms Shyller’s Tan evidence was not convincing, as she had raised it for the very first time only during the trial and had not mentioned it in her affidavit filed earlier to the court.