Thursday, December 15, 2011

En bloc U-turn ends in court

Straits Times: Thu, Dec 15
A HOUSING agency, which handled a collective sale in Sophia Road but was later told to drop it, is suing the owners of all nine units for alleged defamation.


The two sides are embroiled in a dispute after Isabel Redrup Agency claimed it was entitled to a sales commission, because it helped broker a $30.8 million deal for the units.


The owners are disputing this, saying they clinched the sale on their own and later filed complaints about the agency to the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) and the police.


The agency and its director, Ms Susan Prior, said defamatory words were used in the complaints and have named 13 parties as defendants in a High Court suit.


A pre-trial conference was held yesterday and the case has been adjourned to next February.


Isabel Redrup Agency, located in Sunset Way, specialises in high-end properties, conservation homes and offices.


It was hired by the owners of the nine units of double-storey landed properties in 2009 to handle a collective sale. The properties include the premises of the Sikh Business Association (SBA).


The agency found a prospective buyer in developer Aurum Land in December the same year and negotiations progressed till September last year, according to court papers filed.


It was then that Mr Simon Loh, who represented the other owners in the deal, told the agency not to proceed.


But more than one year later, Aurum sealed the deal directly with the owners in October this year.


The agency, in a separate High Court suit, is seeking $723,320 in commissions, claiming the transaction was due to its efforts.


Ms Prior claimed that Mr Loh sent her several text and e-mail messages this year threatening to file complaints against the agency with the CEA, the police and The Straits Times about her alleged conduct of the matter.


Besides Mr Loh, the agency is also suing the other owners because it understood that Mr Loh had been authorised by them to file charges and complaints with the CEA, the police and any public authority or public media as deemed appropriate.


By doing so, they had authorised him to use the alleged defamatory words, the agency claimed.


The owners include two who are trustees of the SBA which owned the premises at 124 Sophia Road.


The agency also alleged that Mr Loh had used defamatory words in conversations which came to its notice in the course of two interviews that Ms Prior had with a Straits Times journalist in April.


The report was not published.


The plaintiffs, represented by lawyer Roy Yeo in the defamation suit, are seeking damages, including aggravated damages for Ms Prior for the alleged distress suffered and the injury to personal and professional reputations.


The defendants, in denying the claims, argue that even if the words were defamatory, they were merely stating the facts as alleged.


Furthermore, any complaints filed with the CEA, the police or public authorities are a matter of qualified privilege, said their lawyer Suresh Damodara in defence papers filed.


This means that the informed party had an interest to know about the matter and it was made without malice.


Mr Loh, in his defence, acknowledged that he had told Ms Prior that there would be a complaint to the CEA and police.


Mr R.S. Bajwa, representing the two defendants from the SBA, said his clients had nothing to do with the dispute as Mr Loh dealt mainly with the SBA's management committee.


They were merely trustees and could not give any authority to Mr Loh.


Any dealings by Mr Loh were with the management committee and not the trustees, he added.


The other defendants denied they had authorised Mr Loh to say anything defamatory.

vijayan@sph.com.sg

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd

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Martin Koh/ Sherry Tang
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