Boon Tat Street death: Lawyer for victim's mistress suspended for 2 years after widow's complaint

SINGAPORE – After her estranged husband was killed by her father in broad daylight, a woman turned to a lawyer, who had acted for her spouse in their impending divorce, for help with estate matters.

Ms Shyller Tan’s husband, businessman Spencer Tuppani, 39, was stabbed in the chest on July 10, 2017, and collapsed in Boon Tat Street in front of a lunchtime crowd.

Her father, Tan Nam Seng, 73, was unhappy with how the younger man had treated his daughter and believed that his son-in-law was trying to cheat him of his business.

Mr Tuppani died without leaving a will and Ms Tan, 46, turned to his lawyer, Mr Mahtani Bhagwandas, for help because of his knowledge of her husband’s assets.

Mr Mahtani agreed to help Ms Tan without disclosing that he was acting for an opposing party – Mr Tuppani’s long-time mistress Joan Yeo, who later made a $3.4 million claim against his estate.

Ms Tan, who was unaware of the conflict of interest, was misled into revealing confidential information about her husband’s assets to the lawyer.

She lodged a complaint to the Law Society against Mr Mahtani on May 22, 2019.

On Friday (May 14), Mr Mahtani was suspended from practice for two years by the Court of Three Judges, the highest disciplinary body here for the legal profession.

A disciplinary tribunal had referred Mr Mahtani to the court to be punished after finding him guilty of two misconduct charges last year.

One charge was for accepting to represent Ms Yeo in her claim against the estate, despite having acquired confidential information about Mr Tuppani’s assets while engaged as his lawyer.

The other charge was for failing to make a timely disclosure to Ms Tan about his conflict of interest, which resulted in her revealing confidential information.

According to the tribunal’s report, days after the fatal stabbing, Ms Yeo met Mr Mahtani to seek advice on a Toyota Alphard that was in Mr Tuppani’s name but bought with her funds, as well as about the recovery of loans she had made to him.

Mr Spencer Tuppani was stabbed in the chest at Boon Tat Street on July 10, 2017. His lawyer Mahtani Bhagwandas was suspended for misconduct on May 14, 2021. PHOTOS: ST FILE, SPENCER TUPPANI/FACEBOOK

Mr Mahtani was formally appointed to represent Ms Yeo on Aug 8, 2017.

He also met Ms Tan, who shared with him information about Mr Tuppani’s assets. On Aug 19, 2017, Ms Tan asked Mr Mahtani in a text message if he could help with the estate, and he replied that he definitely could.

Ms Tan said she later questioned if he was acting in her best interest when he tried to discourage her from litigating with Ms Yeo.

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She broke off contact with Mr Mahtani after she learnt from a letter from his firm on Nov 24, 2017 that he was acting for Ms Yeo.

Mr Mahtani denied that he had agreed to act for the estate. He said he had told Ms Tan that he was acting for Ms Yeo.

He said she did not protest against the conflict of interest until the estate filed its defence in a lawsuit brought by Ms Yeo in 2019.

The tribunal rejected Mr Mahtani’s account, saying that Ms Tan would not have confided in him if she had known he was acting for Ms Yeo, as there was “no love lost” between the two women.

Separately, Mr Tuppani’s mother, Madam Tham Poh Kwai, has sued Tan Nam Seng, seeking more than $5,000 a month in damages and losses.

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