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PM Lee vs TOC editor libel trial: Lee Kuan Yew’s lawyer Kwa Kim Li testifies

SINGAPORE — The late Lee Kuan Yew’s lawyer took the stand on Thursday (Dec 3), the last person to give evidence in the High Court defamation trial brought by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong against the chief editor of socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC).

Madam Kwa Kim Li leaving the Supreme Court on Dec 3, 2020.

Madam Kwa Kim Li leaving the Supreme Court on Dec 3, 2020.

  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is suing the editor of The Online Citizen over an article related to 38 Oxley Road
  • The late Lee Kuan Yew’s lawyer took the witness stand on Thursday
  • She testified for half an hour about details regarding emails about the house
  • Both parties will file closing submissions within four weeks

 

SINGAPORE — The late Lee Kuan Yew’s lawyer took the stand on Thursday (Dec 3), the last person to give evidence in the High Court defamation trial brought by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong against the chief editor of socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC).

Madam Kwa Kim Li, who prepared the founding prime minister’s first six wills from 2011 to 2012, was subpoenaed in October to give evidence by TOC editor Terry Xu.

She applied to have the subpoena set aside but Justice Audrey Lim dismissed the application on Thursday morning.

Clad in a dark green cheongsam, Mdm Kwa took the stand for just half an hour in the afternoon, with Mr Xu’s lawyer Lim Tean questioning her about email details and whether she had told Lee Kuan Yew that his family home had not been gazetted as a heritage building.

The only other witnesses, PM Lee and Mr Xu, testified over the last three days.

The libel suit centres around an article published in TOC in August last year, titled: “PM Lee’s wife Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members”.

Since 2017, PM Lee has been embroiled in a dispute with his siblings — Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang — over the fate of their family home at 38 Oxley Road after the death of their father.

The TOC article, PM Lee’s lawyers have said, contains false allegations repeated from his siblings that gravely injure his character and reputation.

This includes an allegation that PM Lee had misled his father into thinking the Oxley Road property had been gazetted as a heritage building by the Government, and it was therefore futile for Lee Kuan Yew to keep his direction to demolish it.

PM Lee’s lawyers also said that the article had alleged that his father removed him as an executor and trustee of his will, after learning in late 2013 that the property had not been gazetted.

Mr Xu’s defence is that the article does not draw a link between the removal of PM Lee as an executor and when his father allegedly learned that the property had not been gazetted.

SEARCHED FOR GAZETTE AT LEAST TWICE

Mdm Kwa was the sole witness on Thursday. The real estate lawyer is a managing partner at law firm Lee & Lee, which was founded by the late Lee Kuan Yew. Mdm Kwa is the niece of his late wife, Kwa Geok Choo.

Mr Lim took her through several emails regarding the wills she prepared for Lee, which he had signed over a 15-month period between August 2011 and November 2012.

The fifth and sixth wills, dated Sept 20 and Oct 4 in 2012, did not have a demolition clause.

Lee signed a final seventh will, with the demolition clause re-inserted, in December 2013. Mdm Kwa did not handle this will.

The clause stated his wish for the Oxley Road house, where he had lived since 1945, to be demolished upon his death or when Dr Lee moved out.

It remains unclear why Lee changed his mind on the clause between the various versions of his will.

One email that Mr Lim asked her to look at was dated Sept 6, 2012. Lee had sent it to Mdm Kwa and Dr Lee with the subject title “Oxley”.

The court earlier heard that he wrote: “Although it has been gazetted as a heritage house it is still mine as owner.”

PM Lee testified that he was not part of this email chain and learned of it only after his father’s death, but accepted that at this point, his father believed that the house had been gazetted.

On the email printout, Mdm Kwa had written by hand in reference to Lee Kuan Yew: “I can’t find gazette, told him.”

When Mr Lim asked her how many times she had searched for a gazette on the property, she said she could not remember “but at least twice”.

The first time was around the time of the email. The second time was “perhaps a few days later”, when she asked a legal colleague to check for her.

“Did you inform Lee Kuan Yew on all the occasions after your searches?” Mr Lim questioned.

“The answer would be privileged,” Mdm Kwa replied, in reference to solicitor-client privilege.

CLOSING SUBMISSIONS IN FOUR WEEKS

On a printout of another email she sent to Lee on Oct 2 in 2012, two days before he signed the sixth will, she again wrote by hand: “Loong has free rein” and “He can handle Cabinet”.

Mr Lim confirmed with Mdm Kwa that these phrases referred to PM Lee, before moving on to another email dated two weeks later.

Mdm Kwa had made a handwritten note — “I can’t find Oxley gazette” — on this email to Lee Kuan Yew. She confirmed in court that it meant she could not find any document that showed the house had been gazetted.

Towards the end of the hearing, Mr Lim confirmed with Mdm Kwa that she sent letters on June 4 and 22, 2015 to the three Lee siblings. This was about two months after their father’s death.

PM Lee and Dr Lee had asked for file records of his previous wills, notes, emails and information to Mdm Kwa regarding the house. She provided them.

After Mr Lim’s questioning, PM Lee’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, told the court that he had no questions for Mdm Kwa.

Both parties will have to file written closing submissions within the next four weeks. Justice Lim will then decide in due course if Mr Xu is liable for defamation.

Related topics

defamation Lee Hsien Loong Terry Xu 38 Oxley Road court Kwa Kim Li

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