Not so Khoo Kids

Mar 03, 2009
*Special to asia!
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They may be born with a golden spoon in their mouth, but being a child of Khoo Teck Puat can be a trying experience.

The multibillionaire sired 14 kids from two marriages. Four of them got into trouble because of their father. Ban Hock, his eldest son, was jailed for two years in the late 1980s. He had illegally channelled nearly $600 million from the National Bank of Brunei in loans to his father’s companies. It was a terrible shock for a man who, recalled one of his classmates, was such a clean freak that he changed his shirt three times a day. Khoo senior, who started NBB, was charged with fraud but escaped jail. He spent a few years away, noticeably in London, and sold some prized assets to repay the Bruneian government before he returned to spend his last years in Singapore.

The late 1980s also saw a Khoo daughter, Mavis Oei, charged in Singapore. Mavis acted as a nominee for her father’s listed Goodwood group to buy two plots of residential land. Listed companies are considered foreign entities in Singapore, and are generally not allowed to own residential land. Mavis—who married a descendent of Indonesian “Sugar King”, Oei Tiong Ham, a man famous for his wealth and 17 wives—got off lightly. She was fined just S$1,000 ($600), but had to forgo $15 million in profit from the sale of the land.

Khoo died in February 2004, at age 87. Almost immediately, his two younger daughters, Elizabeth and Jacqueline, informed the authorities their father had breached stock-exchange regulations. Khoo had under-declared his family’s holdings in Goodwood and two related listed firms. Both Liz and Jackie are directors in those firms. The breaches carry a potential jail sentence.

The daughters admitted their liabilities. But they claimed leniency on grounds that they were unable to go against their father when he was still alive.

Months of tension followed. The sisters hired two of the best—and reputedly most expensive—lawyers in Singapore to fight their cases. Jackie engaged Senior Counsel Davinder Singh while Elizabeth hired another Senior Counsel, K. Shanmugam, both also Members of Parliament. (Senior Counsels are Singapore’s equivalent of Queen’s Counsels in the UK). Liz and Jackie kept a lot profile while awaiting trial. But they were back in the news in January 2005. Out of the blue, the Khoo foundation donated tens of millions of dollars to the government to buy a large and rare batch of sunken Tang dynasty porcelain. This turned out to be a big headache for the government.

Three months later the sisters were charged for failing to disclose their father’s stake in listed companies and failing in their duty as directors. They pleaded guilty two months later and were fined a total of $500,000. (Their legal fees were said to be many times that amount). But they escaped jail.

Of Khoo’s children, his youngest son, Eric, is the best known. Eric is not involved in the family business. Instead he spends his money making movies. Today he is Singapore’s best known director, and is famous internationally. If he ever comes close to a brush with the law, it would be in his films.


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lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.


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