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Home court: in Singapore, state lawyers threaten uneasy truce between PM Lee Hsien Loong and siblings

  • Public prosecutors are looking to re-examine the circumstances surrounding former premier Lee Kuan Yew’s final will
  • The issue saw the current leader, Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling bicker in public in 2016, scandalising the island nation
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 06 January, 2019, 11:42pm
UPDATED : Monday, 07 January, 2019, 10:45pm

The uneasy truce between Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his estranged younger siblings could soon be over, with public prosecutors now seeking to re-examine the circumstances surrounding their late father and former premier Lee Kuan Yew’s final will – the very issue that saw the trio bicker in public in 2016.

The revelation of this development in a Facebook post late on Sunday by Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling puts into focus the deep acrimony that remains within the family two years after they brought their private dispute out into the open.

As the children of Singapore’s independence leader Lee Kuan Yew, the Lee siblings are considered part of the island state’s unofficial “First Family”.

The reopening of their quarrel – which dominated the national consciousness in 2016 – is likely to set Singaporeans chattering about the Lees once again, this time with a possible general election around the corner.

The younger siblings’ statement on Sunday said the attorney general’s chambers had applied to the country’s Law Society for legal malpractice proceedings to be initiated against Lee Suet Fern, the lawyer wife of Lee Hsien Yang.

They said some “500 pages” worth of documents had been filed to the Law Society, which has the power to convene proceedings to censure or disbar lawyers for malpractice.

“As far as we know, this is an unprecedented use of such legal process involving a private will,” the siblings said.

They said Lucien Wong – the current attorney general, who once was the current prime minister’s personal lawyer – had recused himself from the case.

The government lawyers’ complaint has to do with the question of whether Lee Suet Fern had played a direct role in the drafting of the final version of the family patriarch’s will.

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With her husband one of the beneficiaries, it would have been a conflict of interest if she had played such a role.

Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling have previously said there is absolutely no room to question the final will or its circumstances as the courts had granted probate – which means it had been proven as a final testament of Lee Kuan Yew.

The premier at the time said he held his tongue during the probate proceedings in late 2015 – after Lee Kuan Yew’s death in March that year – because he did not want to sully the family’s reputation. He had expressed in an earlier affidavit his concerns about Lee Suet Fern’s involvement in the drafting of the will.

The younger siblings have countered that such a challenge could have been done privately “in camera”.

The siblings’ statement on Sunday provided scant detail on the current state of the disciplinary proceedings the attorney general’s chambers are seeking against Lee Suet Fern, who is considered one of Singapore’s pre-eminent legal minds.

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In a statement on Monday morning, Singapore’s Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) confirmed it had referred a “case of possible professional misconduct” involving Lee Suet Fern to the Law Society – citing her role in the drafting of Lee Kuan Yew’s will. It did not explain why the action was being taken some three years after the execution of Lee Kuan Yew’s will. The chambers said it first contacted Lee Suet Fern in October 2018, but the lawyer “did not answer the questions the AGC had asked”.

“Given her refusal to answer, AGC then referred the matter to the Law Society. The deputy attorney general has also further requested that the matter be referred to a disciplinary tribunal,” it said.

Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling first triggered the saga, now widely referred to as the “Lee family feud”, by accusing their brother on social media of abusing his executive powers to scuttle their efforts to demolish the family bungalow as their father wanted.

Premier Lee later went before parliament to dispel these allegations and offer assurances that he had recused himself from the government’s decision-making process on the issue. He also said the government would not change the status quo of the house – it is owned by Lee Hsien Yang and occupied by Lee Wei Ling – as long as Lee Wei Ling continues to live there.

Discussions about the dispute had largely dissipated after the two sides issued statements indicating they wanted a truce.

Lee Hsien Yang was in the news last year after he was spotted meeting with Tan Cheng Bock, a former stalwart in the prime minister’s ruling People’s Action Party who is now aligned with the opposition.

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Li Shengwu, Lee Hsien Yang’s son and a high-profile Harvard economics academic, is facing contempt charges for comments he made about the judiciary on Facebook. He has previously said he has no plans to return to Singapore in the near future.

In their Sunday statement, Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling referenced this case, claiming that the attorney general’s chambers “has also been relentless this past one and a half years pursuing a prosecution of Li Shengwu for a private Facebook post”.

“At the same time, the AGC has not prosecuted any party who shared or published his private post.”

Some analysts say an entry into active politics by Lee Hsien Yang to take on his brother could prove a game-changer in elections that are expected to be called some time this year.