THE LATEST: The Prime Minister’s wife Ho Ching late on Friday (June 23, 2017) released a statement on Facebook confirming she lent the personal artefacts of Lee Kuan Yew to the National Heritage Board, at the request of her husband. She said the executors of the patriarch’s estate – Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling – were kept informed of this development. She took issue with Lee Hsien Yang’s initial accusation that she had “helped herself” to the items while the senior Lee lay on his death bed. She wrote: “There would not be any reason to rummage [through] or tidy up papa’s [Lee Kuan Yew’s] things when he was in hospital – that is not me nor my values.”
The bitter public quarrel among the family of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has taken a turn for the worse, as the two feuding sides engaged in a fresh social media skirmish centred on the leader’s wife.
It was not the first time Ho Ching had found herself caught in the crossfire of the battle over the estate of her father-in-law Lee Kuan Yew, the late founding leader of the city state. On Thursday, she was put front and centre of the feud as the premier’s brother Lee Hsien Yang launched new accusations on Facebook claiming his sister-in-law “helped herself” to personal items belonging to the family patriarch as he lay on his death bed in February 2015.
He posted documentary evidence that he claimed showed Ho Ching removing the items from the elder Lee’s house, and donating them to the National Heritage Board a day after he was admitted to hospital for the last time on February 5, 2015. Lee Kuan Yew died at age 91 seven weeks later, on March 23, 2015.
But the latest allegation was left standing on shaky ground on Friday after the heritage board said the dates on the documents were inaccurate due to a “clerical error” – with the actual date of its receipt of the items being April 6, 2015. Official accounts meanwhile put the leader’s wife overseas when her father-in-law was sent to hospital. Lee Hsien Yang, one of the two younger Lee siblings entrusted with executing Lee Kuan Yew’s final will, remained defiant after the contradictions were revealed.
‘EVEN MORE TROUBLING’
“This is even more troubling. By [Lee Kuan Yew’s] will, the estate’s residual items, such as personal documents, fall under the absolute discretion of the executors [Lee] Wei Ling and myself,” the 60-year-old said. “Unapproved removal of these items, even by a beneficiary, constitutes both theft and intermeddling,” the prominent corporate figure wrote in a late night riposte. “Ho Ching is not an executor or a beneficiary to our father’s estate.”
Ho Ching, 64, is the chief executive of Temasek Holdings, one of two Singaporean sovereign wealth funds. She does not hold an official position in the government. The document initially posted by Lee Hsien Yang was an inventory the heritage board had issued when it received the late Lee Kuan Yew’s personal artefacts.
It listed “Ho Ching” as the point of contact, while the “lender/source” was referenced as the Prime Minister’s Office. Four of the five items – consisting of letters and memos dating back to 1949 – were received by the heritage authority on February 6, a day after Lee was admitted to hospital for the last time. The fifth item, a British-style red ministerial box, was received by the authority on March 27, four days after the elder Lee’s death.
Ho Ching’s name and the words “prime minister’s office” were underlined in red by Lee Hsien Yang. The words “Ho Ching, unofficially ‘PMO’, takes LKY’s things whilst he is dying” were typed in red at the top of the document. The heritage board said the items donated were displayed at an exhibition about the elder Lee’s life held soon after he died.
Meanwhile, news releases on the website of the Prime Minister’s Office stated the premier and his wife were on an official visit to Germany from February 1-4, 2015, and Spain from February 5-6, 2015. The premier posted a photograph from Berlin on February 5, 2015.
In his late night response, Lee Hsien Yang acknowledged this, but said: “We also still do not understand how she is a proper contact representative for the PMO.”
‘WORSE THAN THE KARDASHIANS’
His fresh social media barbs gained immediate traction in the Lion City, which has been both saddened and riveted watching the row among its most well-known political clan.
“This is worse than the Kardashians,” wrote Jessica Loh in response to Lee Hsien Yang’s post. Others
urged the premier’s wife to clear the air on the donated Lee Kuan Yew items.
“The date is irrelevant. The point is that an individual with no official capacity in the PMO allegedly signed off on items handed over from the PMO,” wrote Sanjay Mathew on the Facebook page of the Straits Times. He added: “That raises questions about security, confidentiality of official materials, and the difference between personal and official positions.”
Many chastised the youngest of the Lee siblings – a former military general and a prominent corporate figure – for his relentless social media accusations against his brother.
“Shameless [and] despicable [Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling] Your parents should be deeply disappointed [and] ashamed of you both,” wrote one Facebook user.
Lee Hsien Loong on Monday apologised to Singaporeans for the disrepute the bitter family spat had brought to the country. The premier has vowed to vigorously refute the allegations made against him by his siblings in a free vote in parliament on July 3.
The saga exploded into the public domain last Wednesday when the younger two siblings posted statements on social media accusing their brother the premier of using his executive powers to block them from demolishing the family home as per the wishes of Lee Kuan Yew in his final will.
They say the premier wants to preserve the house as a way to benefit from their late father’s immense political capital. The premier has vehemently denied this, and said he has recused himself on government decisions on the matter. Lee Hsien Yang’s posts on Thursday was not the first time he had taken aim at the premier’s wife.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post on Sunday, Lee Hsien Yang said: “While Ho Ching holds no elected or official position in government, her influence is pervasive, and extends well beyond her job purview”. He did not substantiate this accusation.
‘HAVE CONFIDENCE, FOLKS’
The Lee Hsien Yang salvo came as Tharman Shanmugaratnam, one of the premier’s two deputies, posted a message on Facebook in support of his boss. The two Facebook posts were uploaded at almost the same time.
Tharman, popular among Singaporeans because of his avuncular speaking style, said there was “no mystery” to the fact that a ministerial committee had been set up to study the future of the Lee family home. “We have ministerial committees on a whole range of issues. They help us think through difficult choices in government before they come to the cabinet, and to canvas views outside when appropriate,” Tharman wrote.
Lee Hsien Yang has said the little known committee – whose existence was made known only last week – was a “secret” group of premier Lee’s subordinates formed to block their efforts to demolish the home. The siblings said they had tried to no avail to get details about the committee’s make-up for “nearly a year”. But Tharman urged Singaporeans not to be perturbed despite the accusations.
“Have confidence, no matter today’s sad dispute. We have a system of governance that Lee Kuan Yew and his team built, and it isn’t going away,” the deputy premier wrote.