FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all

Jun 16, 2017 02.41PM |

by Bertha Henson

SO MUCH has been disclosed in the famiLEE saga that you wonder why some trigger-happy Singaporean hasn’t filed a police report. The insinuations of foul play, skullduggery and underhand tactics are material enough for a movie and far more exciting than any family dispute over inheritance that we have seen played out in court.

That’s the big question then: Why not turn to the courts to sieve the truth from mere words? Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had his chance to mount a legal challenge when the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s Will was undergoing probate in 2015 – but he didn’t. One can assume that he did not want what he described as a family matter to be made public. Or that new information came to light only after that.

Which brings us to the question of whether this mysterious ministerial committee led by Minister Lawrence Wong is supposed to act as a proxy court – to determine the validity of that last – and seventh – Will.

Given the amount of words levelled at either side of the famiLEE fence, you can probably make a case for defamation as well. There must be facts to back up the assertions of Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling that their eldest brother is a liar. Likewise, there must be facts to bolster PM Lee’s claim that Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife had not been honest about the way the last Will was drafted. To the layman, it sounds almost criminal.

Singaporeans reading the shots that have been fired over social media over the past three days at all hours of the day and night are left wondering about what the real issue is here.

Is this about the Oxley Road house being preserved or demolished? Is this about PM Lee’s unhappiness over the process of the will-making which he said he had been kept in the dark about? Is it about the Lee siblings’ angst over the domineering attitude of their eldest brother and his wife?

It began as a quarrel over the house. Now, remember that all three have stated publicly that they want to fulfill their father’s wish to have the house demolished eventually, especially if Dr Lee no longer wished to stay there.

Here’s the state of play about the house: It was bequeathed to PM Lee, who sold it to his brother. PM Lee offered it at $1 but with strings attached, such as leaving it open for the G to acquire it if it wants to and for any money eventually made from the house to go to charity. In each case, the deal fell through and became an outright sale at the market price but on condition that both PM Lee and his brother stump up half the value of the house to charity.

Reading his statutory declaration, PM Lee painted his brother as being too quick to want the house demolished and both siblings were unhappy about future proceeds going to charity. Read: they wanted the money which would be extremely substantial given its prime location.

TMG asked Mr Lee Hsien Yang about this and he replied: “I have paid market value for the house, and a further half its valuation as a donation to charity. Wei Ling has the right to live there for as long as she wishes. My only reason to buy it is to fulfill my parents wish one day. ”

So, we asked: Since the house is his anyway, why can’t he simply have it razed in line with what the siblings said were their parents’ wishes? “I cannot demolish the house while Wei Ling lives there. If she moves out, I would demolish it as soon as possible.”

Over the past two days, the siblings have been saying in public what G detractors have been complaining about for eons: That the G, or rather the Prime Minister, is so all-powerful that he can utilise all the G resources to stymie any move he disagrees with. The siblings go even further: that his alleged persecution of the siblings have made Mr Lee and his wife decide to re-locate.

It is heartbreaking to see the amount of distrust that had been brewing in what most people had assumed to be a tight-knit family under its late patriarch, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. What we now know is that familial relationships have been fraying for some time, even while the late Mr Lee was alive. Dr Lee’s inheritance, for example, had been subjected to changes and we are told of open quarrels between her and father and the interventions of her sister-in-law, Mrs Lee Suet Fern.

But seriously, what is this to us? Why is it important to know about the last Will and whether Mrs Lee, a corporate lawyer, played a role in drafting it? After all, it is a family matter.

It matters because there are allegations of impropriety on the part of the Prime Minister, the top political leader here, and this must surely affect his standing among the people. We probably wouldn’t care much if they were ordinary citizens but one of the parties happens to be the Prime Minister whose government has always upheld the principle of honesty and integrity. PS. Think of the number of lawsuits individual ministers have levelled against those who make far less damning comments about them.

Is PM Lee really a despot who die, die wants to preserve Oxley Road house for his own political advantage? Or are the siblings trying to do him in out of greed or whatever personal reason?

Looking at the exchanges, both sides do not seem to be engaging each other.

PM Lee is focused on the role Mrs Lee Suet Fern played in the drafting of the Will. As a daughter-in-law, she should not have taken part, he said, and challenged his siblings to give their side of the story. His brother, however, said his wife was never involved and had told the ministerial committee so several times.

Screenshot of the Summary of Statutory Declarations shared by PM Lee on his Facebook page.

Then the Lee siblings are focused on PM Lee’s public and private comments. PM Lee had told Parliament that the demolition was what his father wanted and which he would like to fulfill in his personal capacity as a son, but he then raised questions about his father’s thinking and wishes to the ministerial committee. The siblings said that this showed his ability to “misuse” his position and influence “over the Singapore government and its agencies to drive his personal agenda,” in a joint statement posted on Facebook (Jun 14).

Picture from Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s Facebook page.

If either side doesn’t want to answer the other and throws up their own spin to the public, how is anyone to be clear about what is happening?

Much light can be shed if the mystery over the ministerial committee is answered. Besides Minister Lawrence Wong, who else is on it? Why was it set up when it looks likely that Dr Lee would live in it for some time? For some unfortunate, unforeseen incident? What are the representations that have been made and can they be made public? If the committee does come up with recommendations, will they be made public?

Why the need for such secrecy? If it has to do with the late Mr Lee’s legacy for Singapore, shouldn’t the public be privy to it too? The opacity over the committee’s work is what makes this famiLEE saga even more intriguing.

So let’s hear no more from either Lee side but from the G itself, the people in the mysterious committee. Who are you? What do you do? What have you concluded? This is no longer a famiLEE affair, nor should it be a state secret.


Updated June 18: The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our articles on the issue:

  1. FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it” (Jun 18)
  2. FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17)
  3. FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
  4. FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
  5. FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16) 
  6. FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
  7. FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
  8. FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
  9. FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
  10. FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
  11. FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
  12. FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
  13. Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
  14. Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
  15. “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)


Featured image by Sean Chong.

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