Read the 3,882-word rebuttal from PM Lee to his siblings in full here
There's no turning back now.
Witness to War: Remembering 1942
23 September 2017 - 25 March 2018, -
National Museum of Singapore
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has just released a statutory declaration through his lawyers to respond to the allegations made in the six-page statement released by his siblings Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling on Wednesday morning.
As a guide, here’s a glossary of the abbreviations to the names of the people mentioned:
Kwa Kim Li (KKL), the original lawyer who wrote the first six drafts of LKY’s will
Dr Lee Wei Ling (LWL), LKY’s daughter
Lee Hsien Yang (LHY), LKY’s younger son
Lee Suet Fern (LSF), Lee Hsien Yang’s wife, a lawyer
Wong Lin Hoe (WLH), LKY’s Private Secretary
Bernard Lui (BL), colleague of Lee Suet Fern, also a lawyer
Elizabeth Kong (EK), colleague of Lee Suet Fern, also a lawyer
Ho Ching (HC), Lee Hsien Loong’s wife
Ng Joo Khin (NJK), another colleague of Lee Suet Fern, also a lawyer
Here it is in full:
1. Mr Lee Kuan Yew (“Mr Lee”) made six wills before his last will of 17 December 2013 (the “Last Will”). All the wills, save for the Last Will, were prepared by Ms Kwa Kim Li (“KKL”).
2. I learnt about the contents of the Last Will only on 12 April 2015, when the Last Will was read to the family. I saw copies of the six wills preceding the Last Will only in June 2015, when KKL provided the family with the same. Only then was I able to review and compare the terms and changes between those wills and the Last Will.
3. The Demolition Clause first appeared in Mr Lee’s first will made on 20 August 2011 (the “First Will”).
4. Mr Lee gave instructions to remove the Demolition Clause, and it was removed, from the penultimate two wills (the “Fifth Will” and “Sixth Will”). However, it somehow found its way back into the Last Will.
5. The Demolition Clause in the Last Will is now being used by Dr Lee Wei Ling (“LWL”) and Mr Lee Hsien Yang (“LHY”) to claim that Mr Lee was firm in his wish that the house at 38 Oxley Road (the “House”) be demolished, and that he was not prepared to accept its preservation or contemplate options short of demolition. There is no basis for these claims, not least because of the deeply troubling circumstances concerning the making of the Last Will.
6. In setting out these circumstances, I will refer only to objective facts and contemporaneous documents, some of which I learnt of only later.
7. Under the First Will, Mr Lee gave each child an equal share of his estate (the “Estate”). However, under the Sixth Will made on 2 November 2012, Mr Lee gave LWL an extra share (relative to LHY and me), and he told LWL about this.
8. As I only later learnt, this issue became the subject of discussion between LHY and Mr Lee in late 2013 and on 16 December 2013 at 7.08 pm, LHY’s wife, Mrs Lee Suet Fern (“LSF”) sent an email to Mr Lee, copied to LHY and KKL (“LSF’s Email”), stating:
“Dear Pa Pa
This was the original agreed Will which ensures that all 3 children receive equal shares, taking into account the relative valuations (as at the date of demise) of the properties each receives.
Grateful if you could please engross.”
LSF appeared to have attached a file named
9. It would appear from that email that those discussions resulted in Mr Lee deciding to revert to his earlier decision to give each child an equal share in the Estate.
10. A mere 23 minutes after this email was sent, at 7.31 pm, LHY replied to LSF’s Email removing KKL as an addressee and adding Ms Wong Lin Hoe (“WLH”), who was Mr Lee’s Private Secretary, in the “cc” field. In that email, LHY told Mr Lee:
I couldn’t get in touch with Kim Li. I believe she is away. I don’t think it is wise to wait till she is back. I think all you need is a witness to sign the will. Fern can get one of her partners to come round with an engrossed copy of the will to execute and witness. They can coordinate it with Lin Hoe for a convenient time.”
11. KKL had prepared all of Mr Lee’s previous wills. It is unclear what efforts LHY or LSF had made to get in touch with KKL when LHY told Mr Lee on 16 December 2013 that he could not get in touch with KKL and that it was not wise to wait till KKL got back to change his will. In fact, KKL subsequently told LSF (the following afternoon, when she learnt what had happened) that she did not seem to have received LSF’s Email. It is also not clear why LHY thought that there was an urgency to the matter. It is however interesting that he suggested that his wife, clearly an interested party, and her partners would prepare the new will.
12. At 8.12 pm, before any response from Mr Lee, LSF sent an email to WLH, copied to LHY and her fellow lawyer from her law firm (Stamford Law Corporation as it then was; now Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC), one Mr Bernard Lui (“BL”), to inform WLH that BL had the will ready for execution and that WLH could reach BL directly to make arrangements for the signing of the will. So, in the space of 41 minutes, LSF saw to the preparation of the new will and got one of her lawyers to be on standby to get it executed by Mr Lee.
13. Mr Lee replied to LHY’s email at 9.42 pm. In view of LHY’s representation that he could not contact KKL, and of the urgency of the matter, Mr Lee acquiesced to LHY’s suggestion not to wait for KKL and agreed with LHY’s suggestion to sign the new will.
14. The very next morning, LSF sent two lawyers from Stamford Law Corporation to be at 38 Oxley Road to procure Mr Lee’s signature on the Last Will. The two lawyers, BL and one Ms Elizabeth Kong (“EK”), arrived at 38 Oxley Road at 11.05 am on 17 December 2013. They left at 11.20 am. They were present at 38 Oxley Road for 15 minutes only, including the time for logging into and out from the property. The time taken to execute the Last Will would have been even less. They plainly came only to witness Mr Lee signing the Last Will and not to advise him.
15. In the afternoon of 17 December 2013, WLH sent an email to Mr Lee stating “We have received a faxed copy of the signed document for Mr Lee to re-read in the office”. This email was curious because WLH was not present when Mr Lee signed the Last Will and could not have known whether he had read it in the first place. WLH sent this email after receiving a fax copy of the signed will. There is nothing to suggest that Mr Lee had asked WLH to get a copy for him to “re-read” in the office. Also, it is not credible that she would know that that was the reason the fax had been sent to her, unless the sender or the fax itself stated so.
16. LHY and LSF did not copy LWL or me on this email correspondence with Mr Lee on 16 and 17 December 2013 regarding the making and signing of the Last Will. I became aware of these troubling circumstances only later, as I explain below.
17. In the meantime, LWL began to harbour grave suspicions about the change in the shares in the Last Will. In July 2014, she told Ms Ho Ching (“HC”) in emails that Mr Lee had told her (LWL) a couple of years ago that he had left her an extra share of the Estate. This fits the timeframe of 2 November 2012 when the Sixth Will giving LWL an extra share was made. LWL also told HC that many months after that, LHY told her that Mr Lee wanted to go back to giving the children equal shares. LWL also told HC (among other things) that the will (meaning the Last Will) reinstating equal shares of the Estate for the three children had been witnessed by notaries from LSF’s office. Crucially, she said “If that is what Pa wants, so be it. But I don’t trust Fern, n she has great influence on Yang”, that “Later, Fern sent a “sweet” email to kim li about what had been done”, and that KKL and LWL had “wondered whether Yang pulled a fast one”. She also said: “If it is Pa’s decision, I am ok with it. But I hv a sense that Yang played me out”; “I was very upset that Yang did it to me”; and “I would hv preferred that it was 3 equal lots all along without needing to suspect Yang and Fern. The money I don’t get does not upset me. It is that yang and fern would do this to me”.
18. In other words, LWL herself believed that LHY and LSF did her in by either suggesting or facilitating the removal of her extra share, which happened in the Last Will prepared in great haste by LSF and her law firm. In a letter from their lawyers to mine sent after disputes arose between LWL and LHY on the one hand, and me on the other, LWL admitted that she had been suspicious as to whether the change in shares was really Mr Lee’s decision or one that was instigated by LHY and LSF but claimed that she no longer held this suspicion. But she did not explain how or why her suspicions had now come to be so conveniently dispelled.
19. In any event, as is clear from its contents, LSF’s Email distinctly and clearly gave Mr Lee the impression that the new will would change only the division of shares, with the result that each child would have an equal share, just like in the First Will. Yet, the Last Will that LSF and her law firm prepared and got Mr Lee to sign went beyond that. Significantly, they re-inserted the Demolition Clause, even though that clause does not appear to have been discussed at the time of the making of the Last Will and had in fact been removed by Mr Lee from his immediately prior two wills (the Fifth and Sixth Wills).
20. Neither was the Last Will a wholesale reversion to the First Will. The Last Will differed in significant respects from the First Will. For example, the First Will contained a gift-over clause with thorough provisions for the scenarios where LWL, LHY or I predeceased Mr Lee. This important clause was absent from the Last Will, and there is nothing which suggests that Mr Lee had given instructions for it to be removed.
21. In fact, if, as appears from LSF’s Email, the change Mr Lee had wanted to make to his will in December 2013 was to reinstate the equal division of the Estate among the three children, that could have been easily done by reverting to the Fifth Will (which provided for equal division). The Fifth Will was as complete as the Sixth Will and similar in all material respects to the Sixth Will save for the proportions of the Estate bequeathed to each of the three children. Further, as KKL had prepared the Fifth and Sixth Wills, she could easily have been asked to make that one change.
22. On 12 April 2015, Mr Lee’s Last Will was read. Mr Lee’s three children, HC and LSF were present at the reading. Also present were two lawyers from LSF’s law firm, Mr Ng Joo Khin (“NJK”) and BL (who was a witness to signing of the Last Will). At that reading, LSF volunteered that Mr Lee had asked her to prepare the Last Will, but that she had not wanted to get personally involved and had therefore gotten NJK from her law firm to handle the preparation of the Last Will. BL then confirmed that he was one of the witnesses to the Last Will. I could not help but form the impression that this was all rehearsed, and wondered why these statements were made even when no questions had been raised about the validity of the Last Will. BL then went on, in our presence, to examine the seals and signatures on the envelope, opened the envelope, examined the initials and signatures on every page, and pronounced that this was the document that he had witnessed before handing it to NJK. NJK did not dispute LSF’s account that he had handled the preparation of the Last Will. He then went on to read the Last Will to Mr Lee’s family, word for word, including the page and paragraph numbers.
23. I was so struck by the sequence of volunteered statements that on 23 April 2015, 11 days later, I recounted to DPM Teo Chee Hean in my office what had happened at the reading of the Last Will, including what LSF had said.
24. It was also during the reading of the Last Will on 12 April 2015 that the dispute between LHY and me arose. At the reading, LHY repeatedly insisted on the immediate demolition of the House. I said that such a move so soon after Mr Lee’s passing, when the public’s emotions were still raw, might force the Government to promptly react by deciding to gazette the House, and that would not be in the interests of Mr Lee’s legacy or Singapore. That discussion only ended when HC intervened to ask LWL if she wanted to continue living in the House. LWL said she did, which made the question of demolition moot. LHY then stopped insisting on the immediate demolition of the House.
25. Far from making any threats or opposing making Mr Lee’s wishes public, I also proposed reading out in Parliament Mr Lee’s letter to Cabinet of 27 December 2011, as well as the Demolition Clause. LHY and LSF strenuously objected. They argued that I could not read out Mr Lee’s letter, because (they claimed) of the Official Secrets Act. When I held firm, they told me that I could only read the first half of the Demolition Clause, i.e. excluding that part about what Mr Lee wanted done to the House if it is not demolished. I made clear that I intended to make public both Mr Lee’s letter of 27 December 2011 and the entire Demolition Clause, which I did when I spoke in Parliament on 13 April 2015. I also told Parliament that the Government would only consider the question of what to do with the House as and when LWL ceased to live in it.
26. It was only after the reading of the Last Will and the dispute arose that I looked up old family emails.
27. I then learnt that on 3 January 2014 at 10.30 am, WLH had sent an email (“WLH’s Email”) to LSF, copied to Mr Lee, LHY, LWL, HC, KKL and me, attaching a copy of Mr Lee’s codicil. The codicil had nothing to do with the contents of the Last Will but dealt with the bequest of some carpets. Buried in the email chain to WLH’s Email were LSF’s and LHY’s emails of 16 and 17 December 2013. Back in January 2014, I had not considered it necessary to read the entire email chain and did not do so. I did not feel that there was any need, and I was not anxious, to acquaint myself with my father’s wills. I felt that those were matters for him, and I left it at that. This is evident from my query to LHY on 13 May 2015 about a codicil to the Last Will whose existence I was not aware of. LHY replied that I had been copied on WLH’s Email in January 2014 about the codicil. I had not earlier paid any attention to that and could not locate WLH’s Email at that point. I therefore asked LHY for a copy.
28. When LHY in response forwarded me a copy of WLH’s Email containing the codicil, he cut out and did not send me the incriminating exchanges in the email chain that followed which showed LHY’s and LSF’s involvement in the making of the Last Will in December 2013. Thus LHY and LSF themselves appear to have believed that I had not paid attention to these matters, nor fully appreciated the import of the 16 and 17 December 2013 emails.
29. In any event, even had I read the 16 and 17 December 2013 emails at the time, I would not have appreciated their significance because I would have been reading them without the full context, since I was not aware (until June 2015, when informed by KKL) of the terms of earlier wills, nor the terms of or changes in the Last Will.
30. When I subsequently reviewed the 16 and 17 December 2013 emails, there was nothing to show that NJK had been involved in the preparation of the Last Will as LSF had claimed during the reading of the Last Will on 12 April 2015. I am also not aware of anything which shows that NJK had met or communicated with Mr Lee on the Last Will. I therefore do not understand how Mr Lee could have given instructions to NJK on the preparation of the Last Will.
31. In June 2015, KKL provided the family with copies of Mr Lee’s First to Sixth Wills and explanations for why he had executed those wills. Only then was I able to review and compare the terms and changes between those wills and the Last Will, and appreciate the significance of the exchanges in the 16 and 17 December 2013 emails.
32. At the end of August 2015, because of the ongoing dispute, HC did a search of her old emails and found the correspondence between her and LWL in July 2014 where LWL expressed her suspicions about LHY and LSF’s role in the making of the Last Will.
33. This series of events led me to be very troubled by the circumstances surrounding the Last Will.
34. Even then, I was prepared not to delve further into those circumstances if the disputes within the family could be resolved amicably and privately. I did not challenge the validity of the Last Will in court because I wished, to the extent possible, to avoid a public fight which would tarnish the name and reputation of Mr Lee and the family. I was also and am still concerned that LWL and LHY want(ed) to drag out probate and the administration and winding up of the Estate so that they can use their position as Executors for reasons which are strictly unconnected with the administration of the Estate.
35. As part of efforts to resolve the family disputes amicably, after LWL and LHY expressed unhappiness that 38 Oxley Road had been bequeathed to me following Mr Lee’s passing, I told them that I was prepared to transfer 38 Oxley Road to LWL for a nominal sum of S$1 on the condition that should the property be transacted later or acquired by the Government, all proceeds would go to charity. However, a resolution proved impossible. Matters reached the point where LWL and LHY threatened to escalate their attacks against me, coinciding with the September 2015 General Elections. I was not prepared to be intimidated. Their accusations were not only baseless; they were based on the premise that there were no unusual circumstances surrounding the making of the Last Will. I therefore decided to make further enquiries into those circumstances through my solicitors in September 2015, but, contrary to what my siblings have claimed, my questions (which are included in those which I set out below) went unanswered.
36. After the General Elections, LWL and LHY agreed to my fresh proposal to transfer 38 Oxley Road to LHY at market value, on condition that LHY and I each donated an amount equivalent to half of that value to charity, to pre-empt any future controversy over compensation or redevelopment proceeds. I was prepared to transfer 38 Oxley Road to LHY so that he and LWL could handle the 38 Oxley Road matter as they saw fit between them. In accordance with our agreement, I donated half of the value of 38 Oxley Road to charity. Although not required under the agreement, I also donated a sum equivalent to the other half of the value of 38 Oxley Road to charity. 38 Oxley Road now wholly belongs to LHY. This is consistent with the position that I had always held and conveyed to my family: that it is not tenable for the family to retain proceeds from any dealing with 38 Oxley Road, as it would look like the family is opposing acquisition and preservation of the House for monetary reasons. LHY was and continues to be unhappy about my taking this position. So, it would appear, is LWL.
37. I continue to have grave concerns about the events surrounding the making of the Last Will. I am not aware of any facts which suggest that Mr Lee was informed or advised (by NJK, whom LSF claimed had handled the preparation of the Last Will, or any other lawyer) about all the changes that were made when he signed the Last Will, or that Mr Lee was properly advised about the contents of the Last Will. In fact, there is no evidence that Mr Lee even knew that the Demolition Clause had been re-inserted into the Last Will.
38. My concerns are heightened by what appears to be a conflict of interest: LSF was involved in the preparation and/or signing of the Last Will, while her husband, LHY, was a beneficiary under the Last Will and stood to gain by the removal of LWL’s extra share in the Estate under the Last Will. It would appear that LHY felt very strongly about LWL not receiving an extra share, which explains why, in April 2015, he told me that there “would have been big trouble” if Mr Lee had not changed the will back to equal shares between the three children.
39. These facts and matters give rise to the following serious questions:
(1) Why did LSF say, at the reading of the Last Will on 12 April 2015, that she had not wanted to be involved in the preparation of the Last Will and that she had asked NJK to handle the matter, when she had been intimately involved in the events surrounding and leading up to the Last Will?
(2) What was LSF’s role in the preparation and signing of the Last Will?
(3) What, if any, knowledge did LHY and LSF have of the First to Sixth Wills?
(4) Whether and to what extent were the earlier wills discussed with Mr Lee in the lead-up to the signing of the Last Will and when the Last Will was signed, and who had those discussions?
(5) Were the provisions of the Last Will explained to Mr Lee, and if so, who explained them to him?
(6) Who gave instructions to NJK in relation to the Last Will, and what were those instructions? Did NJK, who is said by LSF to have prepared the Last Will, ever meet or speak to Mr Lee to take instructions or to get the Last Will signed?
(7) Did Mr Lee give specific instructions to re-insert the Demolition Clause in the Last Will, and if so, to whom?
(8) Was there a conflict of interest on the part of LSF, her fellow lawyers and her firm?
(9) What transpired during the brief time that BL and EK were with Mr Lee? Did LSF tell BL and EK to ensure that Mr Lee received independent legal advice before asking him to sign the Last Will?
40. Without proper and complete answers to these questions, the serious doubts about whether Mr Lee was properly and independently advised on the contents of the Last Will before he signed it cannot be cleared.
41. LWL and LHY claim that Mr Lee was not prepared to consider any option other than the demolition of the House. For that they rely heavily on the insertion of the Demolition Clause in the Last Will. In light of the troubling circumstances set out above, I believe it is necessary to go beyond the Last Will in order to establish what Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s thinking and wishes were in relation to the House.
Top photo collage adapted via Today, Wikimedia Commons and Getty Images