SINGAPORE - Infighting has intensified within the Gilstead Court sale committee involved in the stalled $150.2 million sale of the Newton freehold condominium en bloc.
Two committee members are trying to carry on with the sale without its treasurer in an escalating dispute over penalty clauses in the collective sale agreement.
In a new twist, committee secretary Warren Khoo and chairman Sally Ching are seeking to remove treasurer Choo Liang Haw as a co-plaintiff in a lawsuit related to the sale.
They want Mr Choo made a defendant instead, according to court documents obtained by The Straits Times.
They cited growing division over an offer by Dillenia Land, a unit of developer Tuan Sing Holdings, to pay up to $135,000 to help relieve dissenting owners of their liability under the penalty clauses so that they would withdraw their objections to the sale.
Meanwhile, the dissenting owners, represented by Mr Adrian Tan of Stamford Law, have asked the court to put an end to the "ill-fated" sale, saying they "find themselves dragged into a dispute that is farcical in the extreme".
The three members, part of a seven-person committee, claimed damages of about $15 million last October against Dillenia, alleging that the offer was a breach of contract and contravened "illicit payments (provisions) of the tender terms".
But a rift has since developed.
At issue is a bid by four committee members, including Mr Choo, to try to get Dillenia exempted from liability for having made the offer and to waive penalties against the dissenters just days before Mr Khoo was to have filed the application for sale approval to the High Court on Oct 16 last year.
Despite that, Mr Khoo said he initially retained Mr Choo as co-plaintiff in hopes of a "possible resolution of the difference".
But he changed his mind after Mr Choo on Nov 9 signed a requisition for an extraordinary general meeting (EOGM) to pass a resolution giving power to the committee to waive the penalty clauses.
"You cannot have plaintiffs in any proceedings holding contradictory views," Mr Khoo said in court papers.
But Mr Choo said Mr Khoo refused to convene the EOGM, even when faced with a requisition from some owners. In doing so, Mr Khoo was "trying to prevent the general body of owners from expressing their view" on the penalty clauses.
Mr Khoo, however, argued that the offer has rendered the committee "dysfunctional", pitting those who seek to "uphold the principle of transparency and equality of treatment of owners" against "the pragmatists who mistakenly see these offers as a quick and harmless way of getting the sale through, never mind the principles".
Dillenia director Chong Chou Yuen, in court documents, objected to Mr Khoo's allegations that the offer was improper.
"They were made to all of the owners (consenting and non-consenting) collectively and openly through the collective sale committee", as well as to Strata Titles Board board members, he said.
Mr Choo agreed. "There is no evidence that any of the (dissenting) owners received any illicit payments from anybody."
Instead, the penalty clauses were aimed at "pressurising" the owners to sign the agreement "under threat of penalty", Mr Dominic Lim, a dissenting owner, said in court papers.
He pointed to "irregularities" stemming from the committee's refusal to use a law firm for the transaction or to use a property agent for marketing, resulting in a "drastically limited market" and "hobbling" the sale effort.
Mr Lim noted that the suit, which sought to have the penalty clauses declared valid and enforceable, was not served on Dillenia or the dissenting owners for many months. Instead, the matter was kept in abeyance, he said.
"The result of such delay is that the matter was kept hanging over our heads for many months," he said.
Furthermore, there are "serious questions" over whether the suit is supported by the majority of the committee, given that four members opposed the penalty clauses.
In seeking to strike out the suit, Mr Lim said the dissenting sellers found it "unpalatable that just because others would like to make more money from their own units, (the dissenters) have to surrender their homes in Gilstead Court".
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