Francis Seow, former solicitor-general and opposition politician, dies in Boston aged 88

 Mr Francis Seow, former solicitor-general and opposition politician, has died in Boston aged 88.
Mr Francis Seow, former solicitor-general and opposition politician, has died in Boston aged 88.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Mr Francis Seow, a former Solicitor-General who became an opposition politician and then a fugitive from justice, has died in Boston at the age of 88.

His nephew Mark Looi, who lives in the US, said in a Linkedin post on Thursday that his uncle had died this week. He did not say the cause of his death.

But Singapore Democratic Party chief Chee Soon Juan said that Mr Seow had died of pneumonia.

Mr Seow had been living in the United States since 1988 after fleeing Singapore. This was after he was accused of tax evasion and summoned to appear in court.

In May 1988, Mr Seow, who was also a former president of the Law Society, was detained without trial under the Internal Security Act for 72 days in connection with a case involving American diplomat Hank Hendrickson.

The envoy was accused of interference in Singapore politics. He cultivated and advised Mr Seow to establish a more effective opposition in Parliament and to lead a team of lawyers to contest in the general election.

In a sworn affidavit, Mr Seow admitted that he had been to Washington to meet Mr Hendrickson's superior in the State Department. They had assured him of refuge in the US should he run into problems with the Singapore Government.

Shortly after Mr Seow's release from detention in 1988, he contested the September general election in Eunos GRC as a Workers' Party candidate. Mr Seow's three-man team secured 49.11 per cent of valid votes, losing to the team from the People's Action Party.

Soon after, he fled Singapore. Despite claiming he would return to face the tax evasion charges, he never did and was convicted in absentia in 1991.

He had been living in Boston, Massachusetts, with his daughter Ingrid Annalisa Seow. He also obtained US citizenship.

Mr Seow began his legal career in Singapore in 1956 when the island was a British colony.

As crown counsel, he led a Commission of Inquiry into a Secondary Four examination boycott by Chinese students in 1963, at a time when communism was rife.

He also represented the State in the case against two Indonesian saboteurs for the 1965 bombing of MacDonald House, an attack that killed three people and injured 33. The duo were convicted of murder and hanged.

Mr Seow went up the ranks to become Solicitor-General - the second-highest rank in the Attorney-General's Chambers at the time. He held the position from 1969 till he resigned in 1972 to enter private practice.

That same year, he was awarded the Public Administration (Gold) Medal for his contributions to the public sector.

He became a member of the Law Society in 1976 and was elected its president 10 years later.

As Law Society president, he criticised amendments to the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act that would give the Government powers to curb the circulation of foreign publications deemed to be interfering in Singapore's domestic politics.

Then-deputy prime minister Goh Chok Tong accused him of using the Law Society as a political vehicle.

The Government subsequently tightened the Legal Profession Act to restrict the society's role so it could only "assist the Government in all matters affecting legislation submitted to it" - effectively preventing it from commenting on legislation unless its advice was sought.

In 1987, Mr Seow represented 22 people detained under the ISA for being part of a Marxist conspiracy. A year later, he himself was detained under the ISA.

During his time in exile, Mr Seow spoke at events at universities in the United States and discussed Singapore politics. In 2011, he spoke via a video-conferencing feed at a forum organised by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), arguing for an abolition of the ISA.

Dr Chee, who had put up a Facebook post on Mr Seow's death on Thursday, told The Straits Times that he had kept in touch with Mr Seow via e-mail until a few years ago.

"He stopped e-mail correspondence with me a few years ago, but he had told me that he was having dental problems only," he said.

Dr Chee added: "He had a powerful intellect and the ability to express himself like few can - qualities for which I have great admiration."

Mr Seow wrote at least three books critical of the Singapore government and the judiciary, including To Catch A Tartar: A Dissident In Lee Kuan Yew's Prison.

He is survived by his daughter and sons Ashleigh and Andre Seow.

Ms Seow and Mr Ashleigh Seow did not respond to telephone and e-mail messages from The Straits Times.