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Lee Kuan Yew not some ‘ignorant feeble-minded dotard being fooled by a sharp lawyer’: Lee Suet Fern's defence submissions

SINGAPORE — Lawyer Lee Suet Fern on Sunday (Feb 23) objected to the findings of a disciplinary tribunal that found her guilty of grossly improper professional conduct when handling the last will of her father-in-law, Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Lee Kuan Yew not some ‘ignorant feeble-minded dotard being fooled by a sharp lawyer’: Lee Suet Fern's defence submissions

The Attorney-General’s Chambers had referred a case of possible professional misconduct involving Mrs Lee Suet Fern to the Law Society, with Deputy Attorney-General Lionel Yee asking for it to be referred to a disciplinary tribunal.

SINGAPORE — Lawyer Lee Suet Fern on Sunday (Feb 23) objected to the findings of a disciplinary tribunal that found her guilty of grossly improper professional conduct when handling the last will of her father-in-law, Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

“I disagree with the Disciplinary Tribunal’s report and will fight this strongly when it is heard in open court," said Mrs Lee, 61, in a statement issued through her husband, Mr Lee Hsien Yang, the late Mr Lee’s youngest son.

Proceedings so far were dealt with behind closed doors, and the matter will now be referred to a Court of Three Judges – the highest disciplinary body to deal with lawyers’ misconduct – at the Supreme Court.

In her statement, Mrs Lee noted that any member of the public can obtain the entire record of the tribunal's closed-door proceedings from the Law Society (LawSoc) and she urged the public to "look at these and come to their own independent conclusions”.

Mr Lee’s last will was signed at about 11.10am on Dec 17, 2013. The LawSoc brought two charges against her:

  • That she had failed to advance her client’s interest by preparing and arranging for the execution of the late Mr Lee’s will where a one-third share of the estate was to be given to her husband sometime between Dec 16 and 17 in 2013

  • That she had failed to advise the late Mr Lee to seek independent legal advice in the same period

Mrs Lee is represented by Senior Counsels Kenneth Tan and Walter Woon, and lawyers Abraham Vergis, Asiyah Arif and Soh Wei Chi of Providence Law. Her defence submissions, which TODAY obtained a copy of, made the following main points:

LEE KUAN YEW IMPATIENT WITH INCOMPLETE TASK

During the tribunal hearing, both Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee testified that the latter played only a “peripheral role” in the preparation and execution of the last will.

In their defence, they said Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s usual lawyer, Ms Kwa Kim Li, had promised to have something ready for him to sign by the end of the week, which was Dec 15, 2013, but nothing was done.

Therefore, the next day, Mrs Lee was only “incidentally” involved in the last will as her husband had asked her for a “little bit of help” with “his… chore for his father”.

They said the late Mr Lee was a brilliant lawyer who knew “exactly what he wanted” and had independently decided to re-execute his first will – one that was previously drafted by Ms Kwa and executed on Aug 20, 2011 – and was just “looking for somebody to witness it”.

Her involvement in the preparation and execution of the last will was confined to two “administrative tasks”, which her husband had delegated to her because he was in a rush.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang was flying to Brisbane that night and was unable to reach Ms Kwa despite various attempts to reach her on Dec 16, 2013.

Mrs Lee herself was also flying off later that evening to Paris.

As she was having a “pre-travel departure work crisis (that) was particularly acute that day”, she only got around to dealing with her husband’s request later that evening and was even chastised by her husband for taking so long to follow up, she testified.

“Mr Lee was not a patient man,” her lawyers wrote in their skeletal submissions as they laid out the context that the statesman was in ill health and had been warded for several weeks in the months before December 2013.

Between September and October 2013, Mr Lee was hospitalised for an extended period due to a number of medical issues including pneumonia, atrial fibrillation and transient ischemic attack, or mini strokes.

“If there was a rush, that was because Mr Lee Kuan Yew wanted things done quickly, as was his wont. There is nothing sinister in the sequence of events,” the lawyers said.

For the Law Society to say that Mrs Lee had “hurriedly arranged” for the execution of the last will is thus “a complete misrepresentation of the situation”, they said. “The timing was entirely set by Mr Lee Kuan Yew… The respondent (Mrs Lee) had no control over this at all.”

MS KWA COULD HAVE ASKED TO AMEND LAST WILL IF THERE WERE IRREGULARITIES

The lawyers argued that it is “totally implausible” that Mrs Lee and her husband had deliberately cut the late Mr Lee’s usual lawyer, Ms Kwa, out to execute his last will in her absence.

If they had meant to cut her out, there was no reason to send her a copy of the draft will before execution nor tell her after the event that it had been done, they said, adding: “If there were any irregularities, they would have been exposed practically immediately.”

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All Ms Kwa would have had to do, they noted, was to tell the late Mr Lee so he could amend his will again. But the Lee & Lee lawyer did not do so at any time during the remaining 15 months of Mr Lee’s life, they pointed out.

MR LEE KNEW WHAT HE WAS DOING

They also argued that the tribunal, in finding Mrs Lee guilty, would be putting forward that Mr Lee “did not understand his own will despite reading and re-reading (his will) not just once but several times”.

But the Law Society had not made such a suggestion saying that Mr Lee was not in full command of his faculties at the time he executed his last will, they pointed out.

“Indeed, anyone who has ever had dealings with Mr Lee Kuan Yew would find the very idea utterly laughable,” the lawyers stated.

“Mr Lee Kuan Yew was a dominating character of sharp intellect who knew exactly what he wanted and was accustomed to having his instructions carried out without delay.”

The lawyers reiterated: “The situation here was that Mr Lee Kuan Yew was a sophisticated and shrewd individual with a starred double first in law from Cambridge University and experience of running a country for well over half a century.

“He was not some ignorant feeble-minded dotard being fooled by a sharp lawyer.”

They relied on Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s email on Dec 16, 2013 explicitly instructing to “not wait for Kim Li” and the “sharp enough” act of him personally drafting a codicil – an amendment to his signed last will – to include two carpets on Jan 2, 2014, having re-read the will once more.

Despite doing these, “during his lifetime, Mr Lee Kuan Yew never once suggested that the December 2013 will did not reflect his intentions”, they wrote.

The lawyers added that it is “completely unbelievable” that the late Mr Lee did not realise that the clause to demolish his house at 38 Oxley Road was in the will as demolishing it was “important” to him and his late wife, Mdm Kwa Geok Choo.

Calling it “astounding” for the Law Society to allege that the reinclusion of the demolition clause was not in Mr Lee’s interest, they reiterated that it was always Mr Lee’s intention that his house should be demolished after his death and not become a shrine.

NO PLAUSIBLE MOTIVE

The lawyers said the Law Society had not suggested a plausible motive for Mrs Lee to change the original 2011 will.

They asserted that the differences between that and the last signed will were minor, and the changes did not benefit Mrs Lee or her husband in any way.

Furthermore, Mrs Lee was “totally unaware” that the late Mr Lee had given an extra one-seventh share to her sister-in-law, Dr Lee Wei Ling, so she would not have known that the last will increased Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s share in the estate at the expense of Dr Lee, they said.

This was corroborated by the fact that the late Mr Lee had instructed Ms Kwa to destroy all previous wills whenever he made a new one – a move that the lawyers said indicated that he did not want anyone to know their contents.

But Mrs Lee’s motive to get a “larger share” formed the underlying basis in the Law Society’s charges, the lawyers said. “The Law Society adduced no evidence to disprove this; mere assertion is insufficient.”

Also, the December 2013 will was not challenged by the person allegedly cheated – Dr Lee – they pointed out.

Related topics

Lee Suet Fern AGC 38 Oxley Road Lee Hsien Yang Lee Hsien Loong Lee Kuan Yew

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