Dispute between brothers surfaced at reading of Mr Lee’s Last Will

Dispute between brothers surfaced at reading of Mr Lee’s Last Will
PM Lee Hsien Loong (left) and his brother Lee Hsien Yang. AFP file photos
PM was ‘so struck’ by events then that he related them to DPM Teo 11 days later
Published: 6:35 AM, June 16, 2017
Updated: 12:39 PM, June 16, 2017

SINGAPORE — The dispute between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 65, and his brother Lee Hsien Yang, 60, arose during the reading of their father’s Last Will, and a “series of events” then led PM Lee to be “very troubled by the circumstances” surrounding the crafting of the document.

Mr Lee detailed his concerns in an edited summary of his statutory declarations to the ministerial committee, set up by the Cabinet to mull over the options regarding their family home at 38 Oxley Road.

The dispute between PM Lee and his brother surfaced at the reading of their father’s Last Will on April 12, 2015. 

Their father, founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, had died little under a month earlier.

Apart from PM Lee and his wife Ho Ching, also present were his sister Lee Wei Ling, his brother and wife Lee Suet Fern, and two lawyers from Mrs Lee Suet Fern’s law firm: Mr Ng Joo Khin and Mr Bernard Lui, who was a witness to the signing of the Last Will.

At that reading, Mrs Lee voluntarily told the room that the late Mr Lee had asked her to prepare the Last Will, but she had not wanted to get personally involved, so she got Mr Ng from her law firm to handle the task. Mr Lui then confirmed that he was one of the witnesses. 

Observing this, PM Lee said in his statutory declaration: “I could not help but form the impression that this was all rehearsed, and wondered why these statements were made even when no questions had been raised about the validity of the Last Will.” 

He added: “I was so struck by the sequence of volunteered statements that ... 11 days later (on April 23), I recounted to DPM Teo Chee Hean in my office what had happened ... including what Mrs Lee Suet Fern had said.”

The Prime Minister also recounted that, at the reading, Mr Lee Hsien Yang had “repeatedly insisted” on the “immediate demolition” of their parents’ house.

“I said (to him) that such a move so soon after Mr Lee’s passing, when the public’s emotions were still raw, might force the Government to promptly react by deciding to gazette the house, and that would not be in the interests of Mr Lee’s legacy, or Singapore.”

He said the discussion that followed ended only when Ms Ho intervened to ask Dr Lee if she wanted to continue living at Oxley Road. When Dr Lee replied that she would, Mr Lee Hsien Yang stopped insisting on the demolition.

The events of that day, PM Lee said, led him to look up “old family emails”.  That was when he discovered an email sent by Ms Wong Lin Hoe, private secretary to the late Mr Lee, in January 2014. It was addressed to Mrs Lee Suet Fern. Other members of the family, as well as Ms Kwa Kim Li, who prepared the late Mr Lee’s six wills before his seventh — and last — will, were copied on the email.

The content of that email dealt with “the bequest of some carpets” and attached was a codicil — a supplement to a will that contains changes or explanations.

Buried in the email thread were earlier emails sent by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife on Dec 16 and 17, 2013.

PM Lee said that, at the time, he did not think it necessary to read the entire email chain and did not do so. 

He was also “not anxious to acquaint myself with my father’s wills”, he added.

In May 2015, when he asked his brother about the codicil to the Last Will, he was reminded that he was copied in that 2014 email. When he could not find it, he asked his brother for a copy.  

“When Mr Lee Hsien Yang, in response to my query, forwarded me a copy of (that) email containing the codicil, he cut out and did not send me the incriminating exchanges in the email chain that followed, which showed (his) and Mrs Lee Suet Fern’s involvement in the making of the Last Will in December 2013.”  

A month later, in June 2015, Ms Kwa provided the family with copies of the late Mr Lee’s first six wills and explained why he had executed them. 

PM Lee said that he had not been aware until that point about these, or the terms or changes in his father’s Last Will, and only then was he able to “review and compare the terms and changes between those wills and the Last Will, and appreciate the significance of the exchanges in the (December 2013) emails”.  

He also said that due to the ongoing dispute within the family, his wife searched through her old emails in August 2015 and found an exchange between her and Dr Lee in July 2014, where the latter “expressed her suspicions about Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern’s role in the making of the Last Will”.