Oxley Road: Conflict of interest accusations unfounded, says SMS Indranee

Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah said in Parliament that it was too excessive a criteria to suggest that officers from the Attorney-General's Office must not have previous links to ministers or political parties.
Senior Minister of State Indranee Rajah speaks in Parliament on June 3, 2017.
Senior Minister of State Indranee Rajah speaks in Parliament on June 3, 2017.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB

SINGAPORE - Concerns about conflict of interest involving the Attorney-General's Office were unfounded, said Senior Minister of State for Law and Finance Indranee Rajah in Parliament on Monday (July 3).

Mr Lee Kuan Yew's younger children, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, had singled out Attorney-General Lucien Wong in their online posts about the Oxley Road dispute, highlighting that he was the personal lawyer of their brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and had attained his position in January this year (2017).

Opposition MP Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) had also raised a similar query on potential conflict of interest about Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair, who was previously a People's Action Party member until his resignation earlier this year.

In response, Ms Indranee said Mr Wong is "widely acknowledged as a top legal mind", while Mr Nair is among the "top six to seven litigators" in the country, and that there was no reason to pass them over for the jobs on the basis of these previous ties.

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This is because "the rules of conflict are very clear... the Attorney-General and Deputy Attorney-General will not be involved where there is any conflict. There is no basis to suggest that either have not observed these rules," she said.

She added that it was too excessive a criteria to suggest that officers from the Attorney-General's Office must not have previous links to ministers or political parties, noting that character and integrity were more important.

A similar issue involved Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, whose inclusion in the ministerial committee was a conflict of interest, given that he had been consulted extensively on the process of will-drafting by the late Mr Lee, the younger Lee children had charged.

 

But Ms Indranee said: "Being a friend of Mr Lee Kuan Yew does not disqualify him from doing Cabinet work."

On Dr Lee's accusation that Mr Shanmugam had become a "changed" person, Ms Indranee said: "She has said many things about many people... Singaporeans will look at the facts and give their own conclusions."

On the ministerial committee and the final will

Earlier, she questioned why Mr Lee Hsien Yang disputed the existence of the ministerial committee.

Ms Indranee pointed out that both he and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who chairs the committee, held the same position that they did not want the house to be completely preserved. Nor did they want it to be redeveloped into a commercial site.

Given that both parties agree that the extreme options are out, there was nothing wrong with the committee's studying of other options for the Oxley Road house, said the junior minister.

Ms Indranee went on to say that the Lee siblings' concerns appeared to have been triggered by the committee's questions on the late Mr Lee's will.

In a statement a fortnight ago, PM Lee publicly raised concerns over the circumstances in which his father's final will was made. He asked what role his sister-in-law Suet Fern and her law firm played, and whether they had a conflict of interest, as the final will gave her husband Hsien Yang an extra share of the family home. The sixth will had given Dr Lee an extra share but the last will reverted to the original equal division.

Ms Indranee said under Singapore's laws, the lawyer drafting a will is required to be independent.

The issue was not whether the late Mr Lee knew what he was signing, but whether he received independent legal advice as required by law.

This, however, was not a matter for the committee to decide, she added.

Concluding, Ms Indranee said that Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling have "made plenty of allegations but we have not seen any substance and no evidence".

"I'm sure the MPs have looked carefully through the allegations. (Workers' Party chief) Mr Low (Thia Khiang) himself had said the siblings provided no evidence. And to me that is most significant, that these allegations are just that - allegations."