Lawyer Kwa Kim Li to pay S$13,000 penalty over complaints from Lee Hsien Yang & Lee Wei Ling

Lee Hsien Yang claimed that his passport was held over an immigration issue so he couldn't give evidence in person.

Kerr Puay Hian | May 11, 2023, 06:40 PM

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[Editor's note: The article has been updated to more accurately reflect the quote about Lee Hsien Yang's passport being held by immigration authorities.]

A disciplinary tribunal ordered lawyer Kwa Kim Li to pay S$13,000 in penalties over complaints about her handling of the late prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s will, CNA, Lianhe Zaobao , Independent reported.

Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling complained to the Law Society in September 2019, accusing Kwa of misconduct.

Lee Hsien Yang, Lee Wei Ling, and their elder brother Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong are founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s children.

Kwa, a managing partner at Lee and Lee, is the maternal cousin of the Lees and former lawyer of Lee Kuan Yew.

The four original complaints

The two younger Lee siblings, who are executors of Lee Kuan Yew’s estate, made a total of four complaints against Kwa alleging that she:

1. failed to follow the late Lee's instructions to destroy his superseded wills

2. breached privilege and her duties of confidentiality by sending e-mails with records of communications with the late Lee to PM Lee

3. failed to keep proper contemporaneous notes and records of all the advice given and instructions received from the late Lee

4. had given false and misleading information to the executors in her June 4, 2015, and June 22, 2015 e-mails.

2 to 1 to 3, then back to 2 complaints again

The inquiry committee initially recommended that the first and second complaints be referred to a disciplinary tribunal.

However, after queries by the Law Society’s then council, the inquiry committee changed their position and recommended only that the second complaint be referred to a DT.

Unsatisfied with the committee’s decision, the younger Lee siblings took the matter to the High Court, which ruled that the first, second and fourth complaints should be referred to a DT.

According to Lianhe Zaobao, after the Law Society appealed the High Court’s decision, the Court of Appeals ordered a DT only to handle two of the complaints, namely whether Kwa breached her duties of confidentiality and whether she misled the siblings.

The disciplinary tribunal is chaired by senior counsel N Sreenivasan and with solicitor Alvin Tan Kheng Ann as a member.

Senior counsel Cavinder Bull represents Kwa.

The Law Society, represented by R.S. Bajwa, handled the complaint regarding the breach of confidentiality, while senior counsel Abraham Vergis, who represents Lee Hsien Yang, handled the complaint that Kwa misled the two younger siblings.

DT "concerned" that Lee Hsien Yang said he couldn't attend hearing

According to Zaobao, Lee Hsien Yang was supposed to attend the hearing in person.

However, he claimed that his “passport was currently being held by immigration authorities in connection with an immigration issue and that he was unlikely to get it back in time for the hearing”. Hence, he requested to give evidence through video-link.

The DT approved his application but pointed out they were “concerned” that Lee Hsien Yang refused to explain clearly why he had no passport.

Kwa admitted she didn't seek approval to release info to PM Lee

Kwa admitted in the hearing that she did not seek the two younger Lee siblings’ approval before sending an email with confidential information pertaining to Lee Kuan Yew’s will to all three siblings on Jun. 4, 2015.

However, Bull pointed out that Kwa believed that Lee Kuan Yew would have wanted the information to be made known to all of his children, and her actions were out of a “deep sense of loyalty” to him.

Lee Hsien Yang asked for info but Kwa didn't give him

On whether Kwa had misled the two younger Lee siblings, Lee Hsien Yang argued that she falsely represented that Lee Kuan Yew never instructed her to change his sixth will dated Nov 2, 2012.

Before the seventh will, drafted by Lee Hsien Yang’s lawyer wife, Lee Suet Fern, Lee Kuan Yew’s wills were all drafted by Kwa.

CNA reported that Lee Hsien Yang pointed out that he had requested information about the execution of the seventh will from Kwa in an email on Jun 22, 2015.

She failed to disclose her communications with Lee Kuan Yew between November 2013 and December 2013.

Kwa argued that the statements in her email were true and complete as she was not involved in the preparation or execution of the seventh will.

She further stated that the communications with Lee Kuan Yew that she did not disclose were immaterial.

DT agreed her email was misleading

The DT found that Kwa’s statement that Lee Kuan Yew did not instruct her to change his will and failure to disclose the communications were misleading, forming the impression that she had no knowledge of how the seventh will came about.

The DT ruled that Kwa has to pay a penalty of S$8,000 for misleading the younger Lee siblings and a penalty of S$5,000 for breaching her duty of confidentiality was appropriate.

The DT also ordered Kwa to pay Lee Hsien Yang S$12,000 in costs and S$9,182.29 in disbursements.

Top image from Mothership file