Li Shengwu says he left Singapore because he feared he might be detained

Mr Li Shengwu has said in an interview published on Friday (Aug 18) that he left Singapore because of concerns that he might be detained by the authorities in a contempt of court case. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Mr Li Shengwu, the nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has said in an interview published on Friday (Aug 18) that he left Singapore because of concerns that he might be detained by the authorities in a contempt of court case.

In the interview with Reuters, Mr Li, who is the son of PM Lee's brother Lee Hsien Yang, said: "In Singapore, it is possible that one can be detained and interrogated for some time without a lawyer.

"My friends had warned me that they were concerned for my safety if I remained in Singapore," he added.

He declined to identify his friends or disclose if they had specific information.

Mr Li left Singapore on July 23 for the United States, more than a week sooner than he planned, the Reuters report said.

Mr Li said he was back in Singapore to attend a friend's birthday celebrations but missed those because of his sudden departure for Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is a junior fellow at Harvard University.

The Government has released the text of its replies to queries the news agency sent for the story. In these replies, it responded to claims Mr Li had made.

PM Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin noted that the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) have applied to the High Court for permission to start committal proceedings against Mr Li for contempt of court.

"This is a well-established legal process. Clear laws and procedures apply to all cases of contempt, including this case involving Mr Li. The courts will decide on the merits of the case."

Ms Chang said AGC has told Mr Li that if he apologised for his comments, then the proceedings against him will be withdrawn but Mr Li has not done so.

She said that the report's points on detention and interrogation are not accurate.

Earlier this month, the AGC filed an application in the High Court to begin proceedings for contempt of court against Mr Li over a Facebook post he published on July 15.

In that post, Mr Li wrote that the "Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system", and said that foreign media had been cowed into self-censorship because of previous legal action.

The 32-year-old shared a link to a Wall Street Journal newspaper article that summarised the recent dispute between his father and aunt Lee Wei Ling on one side, and his uncle on the other, over their late father's home at 38, Oxley Road.

He also included a link to a 2010 New York Times editorial critical of his late grandfather, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, and the Government over what it deemed as censorship of the foreign press.

Calling Mr Li's remarks "an egregious and baseless attack" on the judiciary, the AGC asked Mr Li to delete the post, and sign and publish a written apology on his Facebook page by Aug 4.

Mr Li has since amended his post, but said he will not take it down. He contends that his post, when read in context, was not in contempt of court.

In a previous interview with Reuters, he said he would get legal representation to defend himself in Singapore, but had no intention to return to the country.

His July 15 post came shortly after a parliamentary debate on the allegations of abuse of power that his father and aunt, Dr Lee Wei Ling, leveled against PM Lee.

The Prime Minister's siblings have accused him of blocking the wish of their late father, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, to demolish the family home at 38, Oxley Road. They claimed he wanted to inherit the late Mr Lee's political capital and accused him of hijacking organs of state to pursue his goals.

PM Lee has refuted the allegations and addressed their charges in a two-day Parliament sitting. He said he had recused himself from all government decisions on the house. He also reiterated that while he hoped to fulfill his late father's wishes in his personal capacity, he also had a duty to consider the public interest as Prime Minister and needed to let due process run its course in the fate of the house, which has historical significance.

The house was the site of many historical meetings between the late Mr Lee and his team of pioneer leaders, and was where the People's Action Party (PAP) was founded.

Mr Li told Reuters that his grandfather wanted to tear down the house as he did not want it to become a monument to him and feed into a cult of personality.

In the late Mr Lee's will, he had stated his wish for the house to be demolished, but said that if any changes to the law prevented this, the house should be open only to his children, grandchildren and their descendants.

Ms Chang said PM Lee had explained his view of the house fully in Parliament, that "Mr Lee's personal wish was to knock the house down, but Mr Lee also recognised that the government had the right to preserve the house, and seriously considered and approved plans for the house in that eventuality".

In the Reuters interview, Mr Li also questioned if the PAP has too much control and said: "I worry that Singapore's ruling party tries too hard to maintain a monopoly on credibility."

Ms Chang, in her replies to Reuters, said: "There is no cult of LKY. Mr Lee Kuan Yew was the founding father of Singapore. His vision of what Singapore can be, and what imperatives govern Singapore's survival, remain relevant and valid. Singaporeans are grateful to Mr Lee and the other founding leaders, and wish to honour their memory. That is natural and healthy."

She added that the PAP forms the democratically elected government of Singapore and "anyone dissatisfied with the PAP's performance can contest elections and try to convince voters that they can do better".

"Opposition parties regularly do so," she said.

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