Lee Hsien Yang weighing presidential bid, lawyers say court findings affect his eligibility

Mr Lee Hsien Yang said he had been approached to run for president and would consider it. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Mr Lee Hsien Yang, the younger brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has said he would consider contesting the upcoming presidential election, which is expected to be called by September 2023.

A day after Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean told Parliament on Thursday that Mr Lee and his wife Lee Suet Fern are being investigated by the police for possible offences of lying under oath, Bloomberg News reported Mr Lee as saying he had been approached to run for president and would consider it.

Mr Lee told Bloomberg over the phone: “There is a view that depending on who they float, if I were to run, they would be in serious trouble and could lose.

“A lot of people have come to me. They really want me to run. It is something I would consider.”

While those who want to run for president in Singapore must not be from a political party, several past candidates have been former members of the ruling People’s Action Party, or have received the backing of the establishment.

The Straits Times has reached out to Mr Lee for comments.

News of Mr Lee being investigated by the police has sparked speculation among some quarters, who questioned if it was being done to keep him out of the presidential race.

While he had never publicly indicated his interest until his interview with Bloomberg, Mr Lee had joined the opposition Progress Singapore Party in 2020, and helped the party led by former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock campaign during the general election that year.

Since then, there has been speculation about whether Mr Lee would run for president or in a future general election.

Mr Lee was chief executive of telecommunications company Singtel from 1995 to 2007. This means he could meet the qualification criteria for candidates drawing on their private sector experience, which stipulates that a candidate must have, for at least three years in the past 20 years, been the most senior executive of a company with at least $500 million in shareholders’ equity.

However, lawyers who spoke to The Straits Times said the finding by the disciplinary tribunal and Court of Three Judges that Mr Lee had lied under oath may affect his chances of candidacy.

Singapore Management University law don Eugene Tan said Article 19(2)(e) of the Constitution requires a presidential hopeful to satisfy the Presidential Elections Committee, which issues certificates of eligibility, that he is a “person of integrity, good character and reputation”.

“Lying on oath is a serious offence and a finding of a high court that a hopeful had lied under oath would make it a high bar for the hopeful to clear in respect of his character and integrity,” said Associate Professor Tan, a public law expert who spoke when a constitutional commission was convened in 2016 to consider changes to the elected presidency.

Other lawyers and law academics interviewed told The Straits Times that regardless of the outcome of the police investigations, the court findings are clear, and it would be hard for the Presidential Elections Committee to ignore what the court had said.

SMU assistant professor Benjamin Joshua Ong, who specialises in constitutional law, said that given the disciplinary tribunal’s findings, the Presidential Elections Committee might take the view that he is not a “person of integrity, good character and reputation”.

He added that the committee might also deem that an individual is not a “person of integrity, good character and reputation” if he does not cooperate with police investigations, but added that this was ultimately a judgment call for the committee to make.

Mr Lee, who is the younger son of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, has also indicated that with the ongoing probe, he may not return to the country. He told Bloomberg that he was not sure “what the chances are that I will return to Singapore in the foreseeable future” with the ongoing investigation. 

On Thursday, Mr Teo, in replying to a parliamentary question, disclosed that the police had opened a probe into Mr Lee and his wife, following the finding that they had lied under oath during judicial proceedings that they were involved in.

Mrs Lee, a senior lawyer, had been subject to disciplinary proceedings by a disciplinary tribunal and the Court of Three Judges in 2020 over her role in the preparation and execution of the last will of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who died on March 23, 2015, at the age of 91.

She was found guilty of misconduct and suspended for 15 months from practising as a lawyer, and the tribunal and the court had also found that Mrs Lee and Mr Lee had lied under oath.

The police said on Thursday that they commenced investigations into the couple for possible offences of lying under oath in judicial proceedings, following a referral in October 2021.

The police also said Mr Lee and Mrs Lee had left Singapore after refusing to go for a police interview that they had initially agreed to attend. Mr Lee told Bloomberg that he and his wife have lived in Europe for months, but declined to say where they were residing.

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