AGC refers case involving Lee Suet Fern to Law Society

The AGC said Mrs Lee Suet Fern appears to have prepared the late Mr Lee's last will and arranged for him to execute it, despite the fact that her husband Lee Hsien Yang is one of the beneficiaries under that will.
The AGC said Mrs Lee Suet Fern appears to have prepared the late Mr Lee's last will and arranged for him to execute it, despite the fact that her husband Lee Hsien Yang is one of the beneficiaries under that will.PHOTO: STAMFORD LAW

It cites possible professional misconduct by her in preparing Lee Kuan Yew's last will

The long-running feud between the Lee siblings over 38 Oxley Road has taken a new turn, with allegations of possible professional misconduct by Mrs Lee Suet Fern in preparing the last will of her father-in-law, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) has made a complaint to the Law Society, but said in a statement yesterday its move does not relate to the validity of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew's last will.

It issued the statement a day after Dr Lee Wei Ling disclosed the AGC's complaint in a Facebook post on Sunday night.

She and Mr Lee Hsien Yang have repeatedly clashed with their older brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, over whether their late father's house should be preserved or demolished.

Noting it became aware of a possible case of professional misconduct by Mrs Lee, the AGC said it has a statutory duty to deal with misconduct by lawyers. It also said that under the Legal Profession Act, it is required to consider if it should refer the matter to the Law Society.

Responding in a Facebook post last night, Mr Lee Hsien Yang questioned what is the public interest that is being served by the AGC and why is it rushing the case this year when the facts were known by all parties for years. He also asked the AGC to release the full correspondence with his wife Suet Fern, saying its assertion that she refused to respond is untrue.

In its statement, the AGC said Mrs Lee appears to have prepared the late Mr Lee's last will and arranged for him to execute it, despite her husband being a beneficiary in the will.

It noted that Mr Lee Hsien Yang, whose share increased under the final will, had said publicly the last will was drafted by Ms Kwa Kim Li of law firm Lee & Lee. But Ms Kwa has denied drafting it.

The AGC cited the Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules, saying it stipulates that lawyers do not place themselves in a position of conflict.

"Where a person intends to make a significant gift by will to any member of the lawyer's family, the lawyer must not act for the person and must advise him to obtain independent advice in respect of the gift. This rule applies even if the lawyer is related to the person making the gift," the AGC said.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Mrs Lee's conduct appears to be in breach of the rules, it said.

Deputy Attorney-General Lionel Yee is overseeing the case as Attorney-General Lucien Wong has recused himself, the AGC said. Mr Wong did so as he was previously PM Lee's personal lawyer.

AGC added that it has written to Mrs Lee several times since last October asking her to explain the position and her role, if any, in preparing the last will.

It said Mrs Lee was assured the matter would end if she had good explanations for her conduct, but she did not answer the questions despite asking for more time.

The AGC then referred the case to the Law Society, and Mr Yee further asked that it be referred to a disciplinary tribunal.

In doing so, the AGC said it does not make any findings on the merits of the case, adding that it is for the disciplinary tribunal appointed by the Chief Justice to investigate, determine if there was misconduct and what action should be taken.

Mrs Lee is entitled to make her case to the tribunal as well, it said.

Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran said it is not unusual for the AGC to make complaints against lawyers, and that judges do so as well. "This is not a bolt from the blue or something we are looking at for the very first time in our industry," he added.

Mr Vijayendran said he could not comment further as the Legal Profession Act mandates that such proceedings be kept confidential.

Complaints against lawyers are first referred to a review committee, and escalated to an inquiry committee and disciplinary tribunal, if necessary. But complaints by the AGC or judges skip the first stage and go straight to the inquiry committee.

The AGC and judges also have the discretion to bypass the first two stages, and refer the complaint directly to a disciplinary tribunal.

In her Facebook post, Dr Lee said the AGC had recently lodged more than 500 pages of complaint to the Law Society against Mrs Lee, who stepped down as managing partner of Morgan Lewis Stamford in 2017.

"The AGC's complaint repeats allegations that were made years ago by Hsien Loong through his personal lawyer. As far as we know, this is an unprecedented use of such legal process involving a private will," she wrote.

She also said Mr Lee Kuan Yew, a highly regarded lawyer, never complained about his will, nor has any beneficiary complained to the Law Society - "not even Hsien Loong who was advised by Lucien Wong (previously his personal lawyer, now AG)".

"Why therefore this new attack on our father's will? Why is this being initiated now, and by the AGC, after all this time? Our view is that this action is wholly without merit," Dr Lee said.

  • Additional reporting by Fabian Koh
 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 08, 2019, with the headline 'AGC refers case involving Lee Suet Fern to Law Society'. Print Edition | Subscribe