SINGAPORE - An e-book on the last will of the late founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew came under the spotlight in a written reply by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean in Parliament on Thursday.
Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (Chua Chu Kang GRC) had asked Mr Teo about the accuracy of the contents of the e-book, The Battle Over Lee Kuan Yew’s Last Will, published online in July 2022 by the team behind digital magazine Jom.
Mr Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh, the author, had described the e-book as “the product of over a year’s worth of research” in an essay, but Mr Teo on Thursday cast doubt on the claim and described the e-book as an attempt “to rewrite the facts”.
In response to the criticism, Mr Thomas said Mr Teo’s objection to the e-book’s conclusions stemmed from the fact that it was critical of Mr Teo’s actions as head of the ministerial committee tasked to look into the matter involving the late Mr Lee’s house at 38 Oxley Road.
“And, as the head of the (ministerial committee), he may feel that our argument is critical of his actions – and, in that, a rare instance in this whole episode, he would be correct,” Mr Thomas told The Straits Times.
The senior minister told Parliament the e-book “totally ignores the facts and findings which had been established, after an objective and thorough examination of the case, by the Court of Three Judges in November 2020 and a disciplinary tribunal in February 2020”.
“It is clear that the assertions in his book are calculated to mislead, as they are completely at odds with the findings and conclusions of the Court of Three Judges and the disciplinary tribunal.”
The tribunal and the court had been tasked to look into whether Mrs Lee Suet Fern, a senior lawyer and wife of the late Mr Lee’s younger son Lee Hsien Yang, had been guilty of misconduct over her role in preparing the will, and had heard from both of them. Mrs Lee was eventually found guilty of misconduct by both the tribunal and the court. They also found that the couple had misled the late Mr Lee and had lied under oath.
On Thursday, Mr Teo issued an annex detailing five broad areas in which the e-book was inaccurate. The annex compared parts of the e-book against parts of the tribunal’s report and the court’s decision.
But Mr Thomas said in his reply, which he also posted on his blog, that the annex had omitted some salient facts, and urged readers to read his book themselves.
He cited two examples. For instance, the annex stated that he had ignored findings by the court and tribunal and “the admissions made by (Mr Lee and Mrs Lee)“, but pages 28 to 29 of the e-book, in fact, lay out the court’s findings, including the alleged inaccuracies offered by the couple, he said.
According to the annex, the e-book also stated that the last will was based on the late Mr Lee’s orders and thus suggests he had made a conscious decision to include the demolition clause in his last will, added Mr Thomas.
But he said he had stated clearly on page 20 of the e-book that “there is no record of (Lee Kuan Yew) having asked anybody for the clause to be reinserted in the seventh and last will”.
Here are some of the discrepancies outlined by the annex:
1. Mrs Lee Suet Fern and Mr Lee Hsien Yang have not been cleared of all impropriety
Mr Thomas had said in the e-book that Mr Lee and Mrs Lee have been “cleared of all suspicion of improper motives or manipulations vis-a-vis Lee Kuan Yew and his will”. This is contrary to what the court and the tribunal had found, that the couple had lied under oath and acted dishonestly.
For instance, the e-book said on page 40 that “the mainstream media has unsurprisingly focused on (Mrs Lee’s) charge and 15-month suspension, thereby, consciously or not, distracting members of the public from the fact that she has been cleared of all ill intent”.
But the tribunal said in paragraph 618 of its report that Mrs Lee “was a deceitful witness, who tailored her evidence to portray herself as an innocent victim who had been maligned” and “lied or became evasive whenever she thought that it was to her benefit to lie or evade”.
2. Mrs Lee Suet Fern acted with complete disregard for Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s interests
While Mr Thomas claims in the e-book that Mrs Lee made an “innocent mistake” in sending Mr Lee Kuan Yew a different version of the will, the tribunal and the court found that she had acted with complete disregard for his interests.
“This was improper, unacceptable, and grossly negligent – it was no innocent mistake,” said the annex.
On page 37 of the e-book, for instance, Mrs Lee is said to have “made one error, which reflects an oversight, not ill intent” in following the late Mr Lee’s orders; and on page 39, it said Mrs Lee had made an “innocent mistake” when she accidentally sent a wrong version of the will to the late Mr Lee.
But the court said in paragraph 150 of its decision that Mrs Lee had “acted with complete disregard for the interests of (the late Mr Lee), and also “blindly followed the directions of her husband, a significant beneficiary under the very will whose execution she helped to rush through”.
3. Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s act of cutting out Ms Kwa Kim Li from communications with Mr Lee Kuan Yew on the last will was disturbing and troubling
Mr Thomas suggests in the e-book that there was no “shady behaviour” when Mr Lee Hsien Yang excluded Ms Kwa in communications with his father. Ms Kwa was the lawyer who had prepared the first six versions of the late Mr Lee’s will, and Mr Lee Kuan Yew evidently wanted her to be involved in the execution of the last will, said the annex.
However, the court and the tribunal were disturbed by Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s actions, said the annex, citing paragraphs 110 to 111 of the court’s decision, which said: “It does not appear that Mr Lee had checked with anyone when Ms Kwa would be contactable or when she would be back” and “in fact, the evidence shows that Ms Kwa was very much contactable”.
The court also noted that Mr Lee Hsien Yang had procured the execution of the last will in an “unseemly rush”.
4. Mr Lee Kuan Yew did not sign the will that he wanted to sign
Mr Thomas concluded in the e-book that the late Mr Lee had signed the will that he wanted to sign, even though the court and the tribunal found that he had ended up signing a will he did not wish to sign because he was misled by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee.
On pages 11 and 34 of the e-book, Mr Thomas had said that the late Mr Lee “was of sound mind and signed the last will, line by line, that he wanted to sign”.
But paragraph 154 of the court’s decision said the late Mr Lee had “ended up signing the last will without being aware that it was in fact not the first will which he had evidently expressed a wish to re-execute”.
Paragraph 607 of the tribunal’s report also said Mrs Lee “misled Mr Lee (Kuan Yew) on the terms of the last will that he was going to sign” and “Mr Lee was persuaded into signing the last will within 16 hours”.
5. Mr Lee Kuan Yew did not have discussions with Ms Kwa Kim Li about reinserting a demolition clause into the last will, and was not advised by Mrs Lee Suet Fern on the reinsertion
Mr Thomas said in the e-book that the last will was based on the late Mr Lee’s orders and suggested that he had made a conscious decision to include the demolition clause. In pages 10 and 16, for instance, he said the late Mr Lee “ultimately decided that he still wanted the house demolished, which is why he included a demolition clause in his first will, and, most importantly, in his seventh and last will”.
The clause, which had described the late Mr Lee’s preference for his 38 Oxley Road house to be demolished, had been a bone of contention between his children – Mr Lee Hsien Yang, his sister Dr Lee Wei Ling and their elder brother Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
But according to the annex, the tribunal and the court found that up to three days before signing the last will, the late Mr Lee had not discussed with Ms Kwa about replacing his sixth will with another will, nor about reinstating either the first will or the demolition clause.
Paragraphs 537 and 538 of the tribunal’s report noted that Mrs Lee “did not tell Mr Lee (Kuan Yew) that the demolition clause (which had been removed in the penultimate will) had been reinserted in the draft last will that she sent to Mr Lee (Kuan Yew)”.