SINGAPORE: A case of “possible professional misconduct” by lawyer Lee Suet Fern – wife of Mr Lee Hsien Yang – in the preparation of his father and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew's final will has been referred to the Law Society by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC).
“In this case, AGC became aware of a possible case of professional misconduct by Ms Lee. Ms Lee appears to have prepared the Last Will of Mr Lee Kuan Yew and arranged for Mr Lee Kuan Yew to execute it, despite the fact that her husband, Mr Lee Hsien Yang, is one of the beneficiaries under the Last Will," AGC said in a statement on Monday (Jan 7).
"Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s share increased under the Last Will. AGC also noted that Mr Lee Hsien Yang had said publicly that the Last Will was drafted by Ms Kwa Kim Lee of M/s Lee & Lee. However Ms Kwa Kim Lee has denied that she drafted it,” it added.
The statement said that the case “does not relate to the validity of the Last Will of Mr Lee Kuan Yew".
Ms Lee, formerly a managing partner with law firm Morgan Lewis Stamford, has been at the centre of a dispute between the late Mr Lee’s children – her husband, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – over the preparation of their father's final will.
Under the legal profession's rules of conduct, lawyers are not allowed to place themselves in a position of conflict, AGC said.
“Where a person intends to make a significant gift by will to any member of the lawyer’s family, the lawyer must not act for the person and must advise him to obtain independent advice in respect of the gift. This rule applies even if the lawyer is related to the person making the gift,” it said.
According to AGC, Attorney-General Lucien Wong has recused himself from the case and Deputy Attorney-General Lionel Yee is overseeing it. Mr Wong used to be PM Lee's personal lawyer.
Mr Yee had written to Ms Lee “several times” since October 2018, “asking her to explain her position, and her role (if any) in the preparation of the Last Will", AGC said.
“However, despite asking for extensions of time to respond, Ms Lee did not answer the questions that AGC had asked,” it said, adding that the matter was then referred to the Law Society.
“The Deputy Attorney-General has also further requested that the matter be referred to a Disciplinary Tribunal," the statement added.
AGC said it has a "statutory duty to deal with misconduct by lawyers" and that when it becomes aware of the possibility of misconduct, it is required to consider if the matter should be referred to the Law Society.
READ: Dispute over 38 Oxley Road - A timeline of events
On Monday, Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran declined comment on the case referred by the AGC, citing confidentiality.
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the Opening of Legal Year event, he said however that such cases, if serious enough, can be referred to a disciplinary tribunal and can result in suspension or disbarment.
"UNPRECEDENTED USE OF SUCH LEGAL PROCESS": LEE WEI LING
On Sunday, the late Mr Lee's daughter Lee Wei Ling took to Facebook to address AGC’s complaint which she called "wholly without merit".
According to Dr Lee, it “repeats allegations that were made years ago” by PM Lee through his personal lawyer.
“As far as we know, this is an unprecedented use of such legal process involving a private will,” she said.
“Hsien Loong has been unhappy with our father’s will and our father’s wish to demolish his home at 38 Oxley Road. Lee Kuan Yew informed all his children and his lawyer at Lee & Lee when he completed his final will and codicil 5 years ago. In 2015, on Hsien Loong’s urging, the estate secured probate for the will.
“At the time, all parties including Hsien Loong accepted the will as representing Lee Kuan Yew’s true wishes. After probate, in 2016 and 2017, Hsien Loong sought to attack the will through a committee of his ministers,” Dr Lee added.
She went on to question AGC’s move.
"Lee Kuan Yew, a highly regarded lawyer, never complained about his will. No beneficiary has complained to the Law Society, not even Hsien Loong who was advised by Lucien Wong (previously his personal lawyer, now AG). Why therefore this new attack on our father’s will? Why is this being initiated now, and by the AGC, after all this time? Our view is that this action is wholly without merit," Dr Lee said.
The dispute over the Oxley Road home first spilled into the public domain on Jun 14, 2017, when Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling issued a statement on Facebook.
In the post titled “What has happened to Lee Kuan Yew’s values?” the siblings reiterated their father’s wish for the house to be demolished immediately after his death.
They also alleged that their brother, PM Lee, wanted to preserve the house “to inherit (Lee Kuan Yew’s) credibility” and said they had “lost confidence” in him and that they “felt threatened” by his use of his position and influence over the Singapore Government and its agencies to “drive his personal agenda”.
PM Lee denied the allegations and subsequently apologised to Singaporeans in a video message, saying he deeply regrets that the dispute has affected the country's reputation and Singaporeans’ confidence in the Government.
On Jun 15, PM Lee made public the summary of a statutory declaration he submitted to the ministerial committee.
The summary included emails from Ms Lee Suet Fern and Mr Lee Hsien Yang to Mr Lee Kuan Yew over the last will.
At issue, in particular, was the removal and subsequent re-insertion of a clause stating the late Mr Lee's wish that his house at 38 Oxley Road be demolished after his death, PM Lee noted.
He added that there was “no evidence that Mr Lee (Kuan Yew) even knew that the Demolition Clause had been re-inserted into the last will". The clause calls for the house to be demolished immediately after the elder Mr Lee’s death, or if Dr Lee is living there, after she moves out.
The Prime Minister added that it appeared that his father had simply wanted to reinstate the equal division of his estate among the three children.
The late Mr Lee had made changes in his sixth and penultimate will to give his only daughter an extra share.
In his final will, however, their father reverted to his earlier decision to give each of his children an equal share, said PM Lee.
PM Lee questioned the role Ms Lee Suet Fern played in the final will.
Mr Lee Hsien Yang responded, saying that his wife’s law firm, Stamford Law, attended to the attestation of the final will at “Lee Kuan Yew's explicit request”.
This was then followed by several exchanges between PM Lee and his siblings over allegations, in particular, about the preparation of the final will.
On Jul 3 and 4, 2017, PM Lee addressed questions in Parliament on the matter where the party whip was lifted and MPs were urged to “examine the issues thoroughly and question” him on the Cabinet vigorously.
PM Lee issued a ministerial statement rebutting his siblings' allegations as "entirely baseless".
On Apr 2, 2018, the ministerial committee - set up to consider possibilities for the Oxley Road home - issued its report laying out the options for the house when Dr Lee no longer lives in it. The report also included the committee's views that Mr Lee Kuan Yew was open to options other than demolishing the house.
While PM Lee said in a statement that he accepted the committee’s conclusion, his siblings stated that it did not accurately represent their father’s “unwavering” wish for the house to be demolished.