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Homecourts crimeEx-banker and convicted money launderer sues brother-in-law’s estate for $20m over US...

Ex-banker and convicted money launderer sues brother-in-law’s estate for $20m over US investment

SINGAPORE – Freed from a Jakarta prison in 2018 after serving 10 years for financial crimes, including money laundering, the former president of a failed bank said he discovered that his brother-in-law had pocketed his share of a joint investment in the United States worth millions.

Mr Robert Tantular had sued his wife’s brother, Mr Tan Ho Yung, for breach of fiduciary duties, breach of contract and misappropriation in the Singapore High Court.

He is seeking US$15.2 million (S$20.7 million) in damages.

Mr Tantular, who was at the centre of Indonesia’s long-running Bank Century scandal, was incarcerated between November 2008 and July 2018 for fraud, embezzlement and money laundering.

Both men are Indonesian citizens. Mr Tantular used to be a Singapore permanent resident, while Mr Tan lived in Singapore before he died in 2021 at the age of 66.

After Mr Tan’s death, Mr Tantular pursued the claim against his investment partner’s widow, Ms Stephanie Karina The, in her capacity as the administrator of his estate.

The case concerns an investment made in 1991 in a mixed-use residential and commercial development in Dallas, Texas, known as The Centrum.

Lawyers for Mr Tantular contended that Mr Tan had “opportunistically usurped” their client’s share of the investment after he was incarcerated, and pocketed the proceeds.

But Ms The’s lawyers said Mr Tantular was the opportunistic one, trying to squeeze his former business partner for money when he had exited from the investment in 2005 or 2006.

The two men had signed in December 1991 a term sheet – a document recording the terms and conditions of an investment – in relation to the property development, which they held through a web of corporate entities.

The property was held by a US limited partnership called Centrum G.S.

This holding company was in turn owned by Mr Tan’s corporate vehicle Goodyork Corporation as a general partner, while Mr Tantular and two other investors were limited partners through another corporate vehicle called Spurlington.

The two other owners of Spurlington were Sinar Sahabat, an Indonesian company controlled by Mr Tan’s father, and a friend of Mr Tan.

Mr Tantular said he had remitted US$2.7 million to the Singapore bank account of Sinar Sahabat. This sum formed part of the US$10 million provided by Spurlington that was pledged with banks as working capital and collateral.

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According to his lawsuit, Mr Tantular was a passive investor, while Mr Tan structured, managed and controlled the investment.

Mr Tantular said Mr Tan gave him yearly written updates on the investment.

In September 2005, Mr Tan told Mr Tantular that he was in the midst of selling the residential condominium units.

In January 2006, Mr Tan remitted US$2.7 million to Mr Tantular as his purported share of proceeds from the sale.

Mr Tan’s last update was in 2008, when he provided financial statements for 2005/2006. Mr Tantular said that while he was in jail in 2013, he asked about the investment through his wife, but she was brushed off.

After he was released from prison, he carried out his own investigations and made inquiries which were not satisfactorily answered, he said. This led to him filing the current lawsuit.

Mr Tantular’s lawyer, Mr Joseph Tay from Shook Lin & Bok, said in his opening statement that Mr Tan failed to give a proper account of the investment since 2005 and took steps to dissolve Spurlington, thus wrongfully removing Mr Tantular from the corporate structure.

Mr Tantular submitted an expert report which assessed that his share of the proceeds from the sold units as well as an unsold unit, based on its market value in 2014, came up to about US$10 million.

Ms The’s lawyer, Mr Loh Kia Meng from Dentons Rodyk & Davidson, contended that Mr Tantular was trying to make a comeback by seeking a windfall he was not legally entitled to.

He argued that it was “unreasonable and unconscionable” for Mr Tantular to make the belated claims.

Mr Loh contended that there was no misappropriation on Mr Tan’s part; Mr Tantular had exited the investment in 2005 or 2006 after he asked to sell his share, as evidenced in a fax he sent in 1998.

He said Mr Tantular knew that his share in the investment ended when he received the US$2.7 million buyout sum in 2006.

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