Events involving Lee Hsien Yang 'troubling' and 'disturbing': Court

It finds that his lawyer wife had acted on his wishes and focused on what he wanted done

The court examined Mr Lee Hsien Yang's role, in trying to discern Mrs Lee's culpability.
The court examined Mr Lee Hsien Yang's role, in trying to discern Mrs Lee's culpability.ST FILE PHOTO

Mr Lee Hsien Yang's role in his father's last will was set out by a Court of Three Judges, which noted more than once in its judgment that his wife Lee Suet Fern had simply acted on his wishes and focused on what he wanted done.

The court had examined Mr Lee Hsien Yang's role, in trying to discern Mrs Lee's culpability.

It found that the younger Mr Lee had got his wife involved in the preparation and execution of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's last will, and described some aspects of an e-mail that he sent on Dec 16, 2013 as "troubling".

Over 16 hours from Dec 16 to 17, Mrs Lee had forwarded a draft will to the senior Mr Lee at the instruction of her husband, made arrangements for her colleagues to witness its signing, and ensured this was expeditiously done. All the while, she kept tabs on the process, even sending out instructions while on a plane to Paris.

The court, which found Mrs Lee guilty of misconduct for her involvement in the will, said her conduct had to be seen in the light of her "divided loyalties".

"On the one hand, (she) was loyal to her husband, who was a significant beneficiary under the last will and who was evidently keen to rush its execution.

"On the other hand, (she) had a responsibility to act honourably and to ensure that (Mr Lee Kuan Yew), who she would reasonably have regarded as her client, was fully apprised of the factual position before he proceeded to execute the last will."

A question the court considered was whether Mr Lee Hsien Yang or Mrs Lee had received instructions from Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

The couple had initially said to a ministerial committee - set up in 2016 to look into Mr Lee Kuan Yew's wishes for his family home at 38 Oxley Road - that the senior Mr Lee had given express instructions to Mrs Lee to prepare his will.

But to a disciplinary tribunal examining Mrs Lee's conduct, they changed their account and said Mr Lee Kuan Yew had given his instructions to Mr Lee Hsien Yang instead. It was Mr Lee Hsien Yang who had roped Mrs Lee in on Dec 16, 2013 to help with the will, as he was travelling to Brisbane that very day, the couple added.

In its judgment released yesterday, the court said that after reviewing evidence including e-mails between the parties, it agreed that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had indeed conveyed his wishes to his son.

"All of this leads us to conclude that the ministerial committee statements were untrue and gave the incorrect impression that Mr Lee Hsien Yang had not himself been involved in receiving (Mr Lee Kuan Yew's) instructions to revert to the first will."

The entirely contradictory accounts given to the ministerial committee and disciplinary tribunal showed dishonesty on the part of the couple, the court added.

It suggested that Mr Lee Hsien Yang may have wanted to avoid the impression that he had any part to play in his father's wishes to revert to his first will and insert a demolition clause stating his wishes for the Oxley Road house to be torn down.

Another issue was whether Mr Lee Hsien Yang had forwarded the draft last will to his wife to send over to his father. He had insisted that he did so, but the court said that it believed Mr Lee Hsien Yang was "not telling the truth". Mrs Lee's evidence was "similarly untrue and to be rejected", it added.

It noted that neither Mr Lee Hsien Yang nor Mrs Lee could provide any evidence that he had done so, as they insisted that the e-mails had been deleted.

Conversely, there was evidence that Mrs Lee had been involved in the drafting of the senior Mr Lee's first will, and had old copies of it in her inbox.

The court also found that Mrs Lee was in no position to make any representation to the effect that the draft last will was the same as the actual version of the first will, given that the "executed version of the first will was never in her hands".

"Despite this, she did make such a representation, which was in fact false," the court said.

It also described as "disturbing and critically important" a series of events related to Mr Lee Hsien Yang's actions on Dec 16, 2013.

After his wife had sent the senior Mr Lee the draft will on Dec 16 at 7.08pm, copying Ms Kwa Kim Li, Mr Lee Hsien Yang had sent his father an e-mail at 7.31pm copied to Mrs Lee and the senior Mr Lee's secretary, but with Ms Kwa removed from the list of addressees.

In that e-mail, he said he could not contact Ms Kwa, and that he did not think it was wise for his father to wait until she was back before signing his last will.

He also said Mrs Lee could arrange for witnesses for the execution of the last will. Citing this e-mail, the court said several aspects of it were "troubling".

The court noted that it did not appear that Mr Lee Hsien Yang had checked with anyone when Ms Kwa would be contactable, adding that he had removed her from the list of e-mail addressees without knowing whether his father would agree to it being done.

Ms Kwa was the lawyer who had prepared all the six previous versions of Mr Lee Kuan Yew's will, and he had discussed his last will with her just days before.

"It is clear from this short exchange that (Mr Lee Kuan Yew's) shift in position was initiated by Mr Lee Hsien Yang, and not by Mrs Lee or Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself," the court said.

It added that "the situation changed materially" after this 7.31pm e-mail as Mrs Lee became the only lawyer remaining on the correspondence, and the onus then fell on her to ensure that the version of the will signed by the senior Mr Lee truly reflected his wishes and was accurate.

However, she had not done so, and had been happy to push through the execution of the will in an "unseemly rush". Throughout the process, Mrs Lee had also been relying entirely on what her husband said were the wishes of the senior Mr Lee, the court said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2020, with the headline 'Events involving Lee Hsien Yang 'troubling' and 'disturbing': Court'. Print Edition | Subscribe