Ezra Founders Resolve $164 Million Divorce Asset Fight

Ezra Holdings Ltd.’s co-founders agreed to resolve a six-year legal battle over S$208 million ($164 million) of marital assets that includes a stake in the Singapore-based offshore marine company.

Former Ezra Chairman Lee Kian Soo, his ex-wife Goh Gaik Choo and their elder son Lionel, managing director of Ezra, this month dropped their challenges to a Jan. 29 Singapore High Court ruling after agreeing to a confidential settlement.

Lee, 69, was ordered to pay Goh S$56 million, including a possible transfer of as much as a 6.2 percent stake in Ezra, according to the 155-page January decision. Goh, 62, who has personal assets of S$27 million, failed in getting a S$40,000 monthly maintenance. Details of the settlement weren’t available in court papers.

Goh’s lawyer Engelin Teh and Lionel’s lawyer Philip Jeyaretnam declined to comment as terms of the settlement are confidential. Lee’s lawyer Cavinder Bull declined to comment. Ezra’s Chief Financial Officer Eugene Cheng said that the case is a private matter between shareholders and the company’s operations aren’t affected.

Lee in May argued that Goh, who left the family during the 2008 financial crisis, didn’t deserve 40 percent of their joint wealth as ordered by then Judicial Commissioner Lionel Yee. The ex-wife claimed her husband and son colluded to dissipate assets after she filed for divorce, citing “significant differences” including disregard for her Catholic faith and his suspected infidelity.

Substantial Discount

Lee transferred the Ezra shares at 45 Singapore cents to Lionel in 2009 and 2010, a substantial discount to the market price, according to the ruling.

The share transfer “was likely to have been entered by the husband and Lionel to enable the husband to significantly reduce the value of his assets,” Yee said in his ruling. Lee’s explanation that the 45 cents price was arrived at because he was born in 1945 was “odd,” Yee said.

Lee said he made “full and frank disclosure” on his assets and objected to demanding that his son transfer Ezra shares back to him as this would hurt their ties, according to court papers. If Lionel disposed of his Ezra shares this was likely to shake investor confidence and risk bringing down the stock price, he said.

Shares Fall

Ezra shares fell 1.5 percent to close at 99.5 Singapore cents, taking the decline this year to 28 percent. The benchmark Straits Times Index rose 0.1 percent.

The share transfer to Lionel was to fulfill an earlier pledge when the company reached S$100 million in profit, the husband said in court papers. Ezra posted net income of $175 million for fiscal year 2008.

Lionel owned about 19 percent of Ezra, according to the company’s annual report. Lee, who stepped down as chairman at the end of 2012 and was paid about S$40,000 a month in 2009, had a 1.5 percent stake, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Goh earned about S$10,000 a month before she resigned in December 2008.

Yee, who’s now solicitor-general, also ruled that the transfer of a 67 percent stake in a privately-held family investment company to Lionel wasn’t likely to be “genuine,” according to court papers.

Separately, Yee ruled there was no evidence, contrary to Goh’s claim, that Lee held S$30.5 million worth of shares in Yangzijiang Shipbuilding Holdings Ltd., China’s No. 2 private shipyard.

Cab Driver

Lee worked part-time as a cab driver for 12 years till 1988 to supplement the family income. He and Goh started Ezra in 1992 to manage and operate offshore support vessels.

The company posted a 19 percent decline in net income to $53.6 million in the year ended August 2013. Sales rose 28 percent to $1.26 billion. Yee credited much of the success of Ezra, including its initial share sale in 2003, and the other family businesses to Lionel.

The former couple had assets in 29 bank accounts, nine properties including on the resort island of Sentosa, stocks, cars such as a Ferrari 360, BMW740Li and club memberships.

The case is Goh Gaik Choo v Lee Kian Soo, DT5683/2008. Singapore High Court.

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