Former S’pore ‘Twiggy’ Battles Lawyer BrotherSource : The New Paper, 14 Aug 2007
.Former model sets up firm with brother to buy London properties
.Later, she accuses him of keeping poor records and misusing money
.She sues, but judge dismisses case
The spate of family fights over properties continues. This time it is between siblings - former top Singapore model Rabiah Weiss, 60, who was known as Asia’s answer to Twiggy in the ’70s, and her lawyer brother Salem Ibrahim.
Ms Rabiah Weiss in her heyday as a top model in the '70s. The enterprsing Singaporean was also a fashion designer, boutique owner and interior decorator. -- File Pictures:
All the properties are in London.
The high-profile family includes Singapore’s first attorney-general, a movie director in the US and several models.
The two siblings brought their fight over eight London properties to Singapore recently.
They had been involved in a joint venture to invest in the properties.
It was agreed that they would register offshore companies in Seychelles and the British Virgin Islands to buy the properties.
Mr Salem was the companies’ sole director and Ms Rabiah was a shareholder.
Ms Rabiah accused Mr Salem of not keeping proper accounts and of using the venture’s funds for his own purposes.
In 2003, she sued him, and asked the High Court to order that he account for his dealings in the venture.
She also wanted him to compensate her.
The lawsuit took four years to go to trial as Ms Rabiah amended the claims three times. Mr Salem then had to amend his defence.
Mr Salem, represented by Senior Counsel Jimmy Yim and Mr Kelvin Tan of Drew & Napier, denied pocketing the funds.
He claimed the siblings had agreed that for tax efficiency, his personal UK bank account would be used to receive money related to the venture.
He denied that he was a partner in the venture and owed his sister any duties as a director of their companies.
Mr Salem also countersued his sister for his share in the properties, after accounting for rent received, renovation and other work done on the properties.
In February, Justice Judith Prakash dismissed Ms Rabiah’s claim.
Mr Salem appealed against some aspects of the judgment, but dropped his application in June, when the deadline for his sister to appeal lapsed.
According to court papers, the dispute began in mid-1996, when Ms Rabiah and her second husband, Frenchman Pierre-Alain Weiss, stayed in Mr Salem’s house while on holiday here.
At the time, Ms Rabiah already owned six houses in London, and supported her family with the rent earned from properties.
CHAIN OF BOUTIQUES
She went into the fashion business in 1968, founding a successful chain of Trend boutiques.
The first boutique, started on North Bridge Road in 1968, sold flower power clothes she designed herself, including bell-bottom trousers and mini skirts. Her elder sister, Fatimah, was her business partner.
She used to put on her boots and dance like she was in a disco at the windows of her shop to attract the crowds.
That was her idea of promoting sales then. Eventually, in 1988, she sold her successful chain of 23 Trend boutiques to fellow Singaporean urbanista and entrepreneur Farah Khan.
She then switched to interior design, restoring period houses in Britain and France.
During her stay at Mr Salem’s house, the siblings had discussed entering the London property market.
Their talks resulted in an verbal agreement to buy and refurbish residential properties, intending to rent or sell them for profit.
Between October 1996 and February 1998, the siblings bought eight houses in London, in districts like Southwark, Dulwich and Peckham Rye.
The purchase price of one of the properties was not stated. The other seven were bought for a total of £556,000 ($1.7m at today’s rates).
Each sibling contributed £100,000 to the venture, while banks such as Hill Samuel Merchant Bank and Lloyds Bank extended loans.
Since then, the properties have been sold, with a profit of about £1million.
Despite the success of the venture, the siblings’ relationship soured.
She now owns an art gallery in Holland Village. -- File Pictures
TRUCE BUT NOT FOR LONG
In mid-2001, another sibling, Mr Victor Adam Ibrahim, brokered a truce between the two.
The estranged siblings signed a settlement agreement, agreeing to dissolve the venture, keep what each had put in and split the remaining equally.
But the settlement did not work, and the siblings ended up in court.
Dismissing Ms Rabiah’ case, Justice Prakash said Mr Salem did not owe his sister any duties as a trustee.
However, Justice Prakash found that contrary to Mr Salem’s claim, he was indeed his sister’s business partner, even in the absence of a partnership agreement.
This was so as the siblings had agreed to go into business for an indefinite period - there was no time limit for the properties to be sold.
While Mr Salem admitted to using the venture’s funds for personal purposes, he pointed out that his sister had done the same.
Justice Prakash noted that the siblings were used to mixing venture funds with their own money and were both content for this practice to continue while the venture continued.
In her judgment, Justice Prakash wrote: ‘It was only after the venture broke down that Ms Rabiah complained about the failure to segregate venture monies from personal monies.
‘In my view, that complaint was made far too late to found the ground of an allegation of breach of duty against Mr Salem.’
The year Ms Rabiah sued her brother was also the year she returned to Singapore with her second husband.
In 2004, she made another career switch, picking up the paintbrush.
Last year, she launched her first exhibition at the Fleming Gallery on the second floor of the Holland V Shopping Mall. The gallery is owned by her husband, Mr Weiss, 38.
It is named after her first husband British banker Ian Hues Fleming, who died in 2002.
The reason for that, Mr Weiss said in an earlier press interview, is that he is too shy to use his own name.
He also wanted to encourage her sons David, 34, and Angus, 31, both artists.
Ms Rabiah has another son Adam, 33, with Mr Fleming, whom she married in 1967. They divorced in 1987.
FAMILY OF 11 CHILDREN
Ms Rabiah and Mr Salem belong to a family of 11 siblings, children of a doctor and a midwife.
Their elder brother was Singapore’s first Attorney-General, Dr Ahmad Ibrahim. He was also a co-drafter of Singapore’s Constitution.
Their fourth sister, Ms Hawa Ibrahim, was a model for Pierre Cardin who went on to marry Lord Francis Russell, the youngest son of Britain’s Duke of Bedford.
Their third brother Cal Bellini (birth name: Khalid Ibrahim) is a movie director in the US, who also acted alongside Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman in the 1970 Western Little Big Man.
Both Ms Rabiah and Mr Salem declined comment when approached by The New Paper.