IndoChine owner claims he was ‘misled’ in shophouse deal

INDOCHINE pub and restaurant chain owner Michael Ma went to the High Court yesterday in a bid to reclaim $386,000 he had paid for the option to buy five conservation shophouses.

He had handed over 5 per cent of the Tanjong Katong Road shophouses’ total worth of $7.7 million thinking he could buy them for commercial use. But he later found out they were partially restricted to residential use.

Mr Ma claimed the seller, Goodman Development, had misrepresented the shophouses as being for commercial use, and wants it to return his money.

But Goodman denies misleading him and said he should have conducted better checks.

Yesterday, Mr Ma, an Australian and permanent resident here, told the High Court he paid the option fee on behalf of renovation and interior design firm Aqua Art, of which he was a director.

As he already owned a residential property, he was not eligible to buy any more meant for residential use. Neither could Aqua Art, as it was foreign-owned.

The trouble began on June 16 three years ago. Mr Ma said his property agent Odelia Tan told him Goodman’s property agent Katherine Poh confirmed that the shophouses were zoned for commercial use.

When he inspected them that day with business associate Andrew Neary and Aqua Art director Camilla Hall, Ms Poh confirmed they were for commercial use, although people were living in them, Mr Ma told the court.

However, when Ms Poh took the stand yesterday, questioned by Mr Ma’s lawyer Kenneth Pereira, she denied telling him that.

Ms Poh said she made it quite clear the two-storey shophouses were meant for commercial use only on the ground floor.

She also claimed that at no point did Mr Ma tell her he was a foreigner, which meant he would be ruled out of buying the shophouses. When asked why she did not check, she replied: ‘He never tells me, I never probe.’

On the day of the site visit, Mr Ma paid a fifth of the 5 per cent option to purchase fee.

Within three weeks, he paid the remainder so that he could exercise the option to buy.

But he later found out the properties were partially zoned as residential, pulled out of the deal, and sought a refund.

Goodman refused, and pointed out that nowhere in the purchase documents was it stated the properties were for commercial use.

Lawyer Felicia Ng also argued in defence statements that Goodman did not know Aqua Art was foreign-owned.

The hearing before Justice Choo Han Teck continues today.

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