SINGAPORE — Hours after news emerged that his wife Lee Suet Fern is embroiled in a case of possible professional misconduct, Lee Hsien Yang questioned the motives of the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) in referring the case to the Law Society of Singapore and why public resources were being wasted on a private matter.
Among its various statutory functions, the Law Society maintains the standards of conduct of the legal profession in Singapore.
In a Facebook post yesterday night, Lee — the younger son of the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew — wrote: “What public interest is being served by AGC here? Why waste public resources on a private matter, and after all this time? Why is AGC rushing this case in 2019 when the facts were known by all parties for years?”
Lee Hsien Yang’s post came a day after his sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling, revived a long-running dispute with their brother — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong — over the preparation of their father’s last will, which contained a clause stating that the family’s 38 Oxley Road home be demolished.
Yesterday, the AGC said that it became aware of a possible case of professional misconduct by Mrs Lee — a Cambridge-educated former managing partner at law firm Morgan Lewis Stamford — and it has a statutory duty to deal with misconduct by lawyers.
While the case does not relate to the validity of Lee Kuan Yew’s last will, the AGC noted that the legal profession’s code of conduct requires that lawyers do not place themselves in positions of conflict.
The AGC said that Mrs Lee appeared to have prepared the late Lee’s last will and arranged for him to execute it, despite her husband Lee Hsien Yang being a beneficiary. The last will also had an increased share given to Lee Hsien Yang.
Yesterday, Lee Hsien Yang said that his wife “was never Lee Kuan Yew’s lawyer”.
He previously said that the last will was drafted by Kwa Kim Li of law firm Lee & Lee. Kwa is the niece of the late Kwa Geok Choo, Lee Kuan Yew’s wife.
“Our father’s private will was executed some five years ago. Our father informed his entire family and his lawyers at Lee & Lee when he completed his will, and kept his will at Lee & Lee,” Lee Hsien Yang wrote.
“This was his re-signing of his 2011 will, in which Minister Shanmugam was involved,” he added, referring to Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam.
Lee Hsien Yang maintained that Lee & Lee had acted for his father on all his wills, since he drew up the first one in 1995. The first will was drafted by Kwa, who was then the will’s principal beneficiary.
“No one has complained from the outset on the process and circumstances of our father’s signing his final will — not Lee Kuan Yew, not his estate which stands in his shoes after his death, not any of the beneficiaries, including Lee Hsien Loong, who was advised by Lucien Wong, now the Attorney-General,” Lee Hsien Yang said.
He added that in 2015, the will had been proven in court with no issues raised, and all parties have since acted in accordance with it.
‘Untrue’ that wife refused to respond to AGC
The AGC said that Lee Suet Fern’s conduct appears to be in breach of professional conduct rules. These include one which states that a lawyer shall not act for a client who intends to make a significant gift by will to any of the lawyer’s family members.
In its statement yesterday, the AGC also called out Mrs Lee for not answering the questions it posed, despite her requesting “extensions of time to respond”.
The AGC had written to her several times since October last year, asking her to explain the position and her role, if any, in preparing the late Lee’s last will.
Lee Hsien Yang said it was “untrue” that his wife refused to respond, and urged the AGC to release the full correspondence.
In his statutory declaration in 2017, PM Lee said that Lee Kuan Yew had given instructions to remove the “demolition clause” — and it was removed from the two preceding wills — but it “somehow found its way back into the last will”.
He also said that Lee Suet Fern “saw to the preparation of the new will and got one of her lawyers to be on standby to get it executed by Mr Lee (Kuan Yew)”.
Mr Lee Hsien Yang had a differing account. He said that Paragraph 7 of the will — where Lee Kuan Yew expressed his wishes for the family home — was drafted at his father’s direction and "put into language" by Lee Suet Fern.
When he was satisfied, Lee Kuan Yew had asked Kwa to insert it into his will, he added.
Lee Suet Fern, who is overseas and heads Morgan Lewis’ international leadership team, declined to respond to Today’s queries, saying that her firm’s rules do not allow her to give comments to the media.
The law firm stood by her when approached. “Mrs Lee is and has been for decades a highly rated and honoured lawyer in the Singapore and global legal communities, and she is a valued partner at our firm,” its spokesperson said.
“We believe it is inappropriate to comment on this matter that has been referred to the Law Society and involves a personal situation that long pre-dated Mrs Lee joining our firm in April 2015.”
Since Lee’s death in 2015, the issue of commemorating his legacy has been widely discussed, including what would become of his family home, where he had lived since the 1940s until he died.
That same year, PM Lee recused himself from all government decisions relating to 38 Oxley Road. In 2017, a ministerial committee was set up by the Cabinet to weigh the various options for the family home, including the “historical and heritage significance of the house”, as well as to consider Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s “thinking and wishes in relation to the house”. — Today