by Danielle Goh, Johannes Tjendro and Sharanya Pillai
IN REBUTTING his siblings’ allegations, the Prime Minister held back on neither the severity of his words nor the word count. In a 3991-word Facebook note, PM Lee Hsien Loong summarised the Statutory Declaration he made to the ministerial committee overseeing the fate of 38 Oxley Road, ending with a list of questions about what he said were suspicious circumstances surrounding the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s final Will.
PM Lee’s account is filled with anecdotes of email exchanges and allegations of curious behaviour, spanning across a total of two years. Perhaps more significantly, the statement was made under Oath, which means it can’t be easily dismissed. We lay out the sequence of events he described in chronological order:
Aug 20, 2011 – Demolition Clause’s origin
The Demolition Clause first appeared on Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s first Will. This Will gave each child an equal share of his Estate.
Date unspecified – Removal of Demolition Clause
The Demolition Clause remained in the second, third, and fourth wills. Mr Lee Kuan Yew had then given instructions to remove the Demolition Clause. It was absent in the fifth and sixth wills.
Nov 2, 2012 – The sixth Will
The sixth Will was signed, which gave Dr Lee Wei Ling an extra share of the Estate.
Dec 16, 2013, 7.08pm – Lee Suet Fern into the picture
Mrs Lee Suet Fern sent an email to Mr Lee Kuan Yew discussing the will, copying Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Ms Kwa Kim Li [who is a cousin of the Lee siblings]:
“Dear Pa Pa
This was the original agreed Will which ensures that all 3 children receive equal shares, taking into account the relative valuations (as at the date of demise) of the properties each receives.
Grateful if you could please engross.”
Mrs Lee appeared to have attached a file titled <LAST_WILL-LKY-Draft of 19 August 2011.DOC>.
Dec 16, 2013, 7.31pm – Kwa Kim Li out of the loop
Mr Lee Hsien Yang replied to the email. But this time, he replaced Ms Kwa with Ms Wong Lin Hoe (WLH), his private secretary:
I couldn’t get in touch with Kim Li. I believe she is away. I don’t think it is wise to wait till she is back. I think all you need is a witness to sign the will. Fern can get one of her partners to come round with an engrossed copy of the will to execute and witness. They can coordinate it with Lin Hoe for a convenient time.”
PM Lee was not clear with “what efforts LHY or LSF had made to get in touch with KKL”. Neither was he clear with “why LHY thought there was an urgency to the matter”. It was nevertheless interesting to PM Lee that Mr Lee Hsien Yang “suggested that his wife, clearly an interested party, and her partners would prepare the new will”.
Ms Kwa subsequently told Mrs Lee the following afternoon (Dec 17), having learnt what had happened, that “she did not seem to have received LSF’s Email.”
Dec 16, 2013, 8.12pm – Wong Lin Hoe to make arrangements for signing of the Will
Mrs Lee Suet Fern sent an email to Ms Wong, copying Mr Lee Hsien Yang and a colleague at Stamford Law Corporation [today known as Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC], Mr Bernard Lui, to “inform WLH that BL had the will ready for execution and that WLH could reach BL directly to make arrangements for the signing of the will”. PM Lee believes that this was done before any response from Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
Dec 16, 2013, 9.42pm – LKY agreed to sign the new Will
Mr Lee Kuan Yew replied the email and “acquiesced to LHY’s suggestion not to wait for KKL and agreed with LHY’s suggestion to sign the new will”.
Dec 17, 2013, 11.05 am – LKY signed his last Will
Mr Bernard Lui and Ms Elizabeth Kong, lawyers from Stamford Law sent by Mrs Lee Suet Fern, arrived at 38 Oxley Road.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew signed his final Will. Unlike his previous six wills, this one was not prepared by Ms Kwa. The final Will includes the Demolition Clause, which had been removed from the previous two versions. PM Lee said that Mr Lee Kuan Yew might not have been aware that the Clause was reinstated.
Dec 17, 2013, 11.20am – Lawyers from Stamford Law witnessed the signing
The two lawyers were only at the house for 15 minutes and “plainly came only to witness Mr Lee signing the Last Will and not to advise him”.
Dec 17 2013, afternoon – Wong Lin Hoe received fax copy of the last Will
Ms Wong received a fax copy of the last Will, and then sent Mr Lee Kuan Yew an email saying: “We have received a faxed copy of the signed document for Mr Lee to re-read in the office”.
PM Lee thinks that this is suspicious because Ms Wong “was not present when Mr Lee signed the Last Will and could not have known whether he had read it in the first place”, and there was no indication that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had asked her for a copy.
Dr Lee and PM Lee were not copied in the emails on Dec 16 and 17.
Jan 3, 2014, 10:30am – Wong Lin Hoe sent email with LKY’s codicil attached
Ms Wong sent an email to Mrs Lee Suet Fern copying Mr Lee Kuan Yew, PM Lee, Dr Lee, Mr Lee Hsien Yang, Ms Ho Ching, and Ms Kwa, attaching a copy of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s codicil. A codicil is a legal document containing additional clauses to a will. The codicil dealt with the bequest of carpets, and thus PM Lee “did not feel that there was any need” to read the whole email chain.
PM Lee revisited this email thread after he spoke in Parliament on May 13, 2015. He “looked up old family emails” only after hearing the last Will and a dispute between PM Lee and siblings on making the full Demolition Clause public had escalated.
July 2014 – Dr Lee emailed Ho Ching about her extra share of the Estate
Dr Lee emailed Ms Ho Ching that “Mr Lee [Kuan Yew] had told her [LWL] a couple of years ago that he had left her an extra share of the Estate”.
“Many months later”, Dr Lee raised suspicions about Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee to Ms Ho. He quoted messages from Dr Lee:
“If that is what Pa wants, so be it. But I don’t trust Fern, n she has great influence on Yang”; “Later, Fern sent a “sweet” email to kim li about what had been done”; “If it is Pa’s decision, I am ok with it. But I hv a sense that Yang played me out”; “I was very upset that Yang did it to me”; and “I would hv preferred that it was 3 equal lots all along without needing to suspect Yang and Fern. The money I don’t get does not upset me. It is that yang and fern would do this to me”.
Thus, it appeared to PM Lee that: “LWL herself believed that LHY and LSF did her in by either suggesting or facilitating the removal of her extra share, which happened the Last Will prepared in great haste by LSF and her law firm.”
PM Lee recounted that later on: “LWL admitted that she had been suspicious as to whether the change in shares was really Mr Lee’s decision or one that was instigated by LHY and LSF but claimed that she no longer held this suspicion. But she did not explain how or why her suspicions had now come to be so conveniently dispelled.”
PM Lee was of the opinion that: “LSF’s Email distinctly and clearly gave Mr Lee [Kuan Yew] the impression that the new will would change only the division of shares, with the result that each child would have an equal share, just like in the First Will. Yet, the Last Will that LSF and her law firm prepared and got Mr Lee [Kuan Yew] to sign went beyond that.”
Significantly, the demolition clause was re-inserted.
Apr 12, 2015 – Last Will read out to the family
PM Lee heard the contents of the last Will when it was read out to the family. The three siblings, Mrs Lee Suet Fern, Ms Ho and two lawyers from Stamford Law, Mr Lui and Mr Ng Joo Khin, were present. PM Lee was struck by how Mrs Lee voluntarily said that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had asked her to prepare the last Will, but to avoid conflicts of interest, she had gotten Mr Ng to do it. Mr Lui then said that he had been a witness at the signing of the Last Will. PM Lee further alleged that their statements looked “rehearsed”.
Mr Lui checked the will and confirmed it was the one he had witnessed. Mr Ng read out the will.
At the reading, Mr Lee Hsien Yang “repeatedly insisted on the immediate demolition of the house”. PM Lee disagreed, saying that the announcement might make the G gazette the site. The dispute ended when Ms Ho asked Dr Lee if she wanted to continue living in the house – to which the latter said “yes”.
Apr 13, 2015, between 1:30pm – 5:41pm – PM Lee’s statement in Parliament
PM Lee read out in Parliament Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s letter dated Dec 27, 2011, and the Demolition Clause of the final Will. Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang had “strenuously objected” to the Clause being made public, claiming of the Official Secrets Act. The Official Secrets Act is an act to prevent the disclosure of official documents and information.
PM Lee “also told Parliament that the Government would only consider the question of what to do with the House as and when LWL ceased to live in it”.
Apr 23, 2015 – DPM Teo in the loop
Because PM Lee was “so struck” by the volunteered statements, he recounted it to Deputy PM Teo Chee Hean.
May 13, 2015 – Codicil resurfaced
PM Lee asked Mr Lee Hsien Yang about the codicil, and he replied that PM Lee had been copied in a previous email thread. PM Lee was unable to locate it, and obtained a forwarded copy of Ms Wong Lin Hoe’s email containing the codicil, dated Jan 3, 2014, from Mr Lee. PM Lee claimed that Mr Lee “cut out and did not send me [PM Lee] the incriminating exchanges in the email chain that followed which showed LHY’s and LSF’s involvement in the making of the Last Will in December 2013.”
It therefore appeared to PM Lee that Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife had “believed that I [PM Lee] had not paid attention to these matters [the different wills and the varying terms each of them contained], nor fully appreciated the import of the 16 and 17 December 2013 emails.”
Looking for the codicil led PM Lee to review the 16 and 17 December 2013 emails between Ms Lee Suet Fern and Ms Wong Lin Hoe in preparation for the last Will. PM Lee claimed that “there was nothing to show that Mr Ng Joo Khin [NJK] had been involved in the preparation of the Last Will as LSF had claimed during the reading of the Last Will.”
He added that: “I am also not aware of anything which shows that NJK had met or communicated with Mr Lee on the Last Will. I therefore do not understand how Mr Lee could have given instructions to NJK on the preparation of the Last Will.
June 2015 – PM Lee obtained first six wills
Ms Kwa provided PM Lee with the family copies of the first six wills, with explanations from Mr Lee Kuan Yew on why he executed these wills. It was only then that he was able to compare the previous wills to the final one.
End of Aug 2015 – Ho Ching found old emails from Dr Lee
Amid the dispute, Ms Ho Ching went to check old emails and found the Jul 2014 emails where Dr Lee raised suspicions about Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern.
By this time, PM Lee felt “very troubled by the circumstances surrounding the Last Will”.
Even then, PM Lee “was prepared not to delve further into those circumstances if the disputes within the family could be resolved amicably and privately”. Thus, to address Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s expressed unhappiness that 38 Oxley Road was bequeathed to PM Lee, he then offered to transfer it to Dr Lee for a nominal $1, under the condition that if the property were to subsequently be transacted or taken over by the G, all proceeds should be donated to charity. But the siblings did not reach a consensus.
Furthermore, PM Lee claimed that: “Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang threatened to escalate their attacks against me, coinciding with the September 2015 General Elections. I was not prepared to be intimidated.”
Sept 2015 – “My questions… went unanswered”: PM Lee
PM Lee made enquiries into circumstances surrounding signing of the last Will, but says that “contrary to what my siblings claim, my questions… went unanswered”.
Sept 2015 (after the General Elections) – Consensus reached to transfer 38 Oxley Road
Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang agreed to PM Lee’s latest proposal to transfer 38 Oxley Road to Mr Lee Hsien Yang at full market value, with the same condition that both brothers donate half the value to charity each. PM Lee proceeded to donate half of the value of 38 Oxley Road to charity. He further claimed that: “Although not required under the agreement, I also donated a sum equivalent to the other half of the value of 38 Oxley Road to charity.” However, PM Lee believed that “LHY was and continues to be unhappy about” PM Lee’s insistence not to retain proceeds from the house. PM Lee noted that Dr Lee now appeared to be unhappy as well.
At the end of his statement, PM Lee then summarises his main contentions with the signing of the last will, and expresses “grave concerns” over the Demolition Clause. However, what is also noteworthy is that in Dec 2015, the three siblings released a joint statement announcing the brothers’ donations and expressing hope that the 38 Oxley Road will be demolished.
Mr Lee says that he acted to keep a family dispute private, but his siblings argue otherwise. The saga continues.
Updated June 18: The famiLEE affair has been brewing for a while now. Read our articles on the issue:
- FamiLEE saga: 10 things from the academic paper “When I’m dead, demolish it” (Jun 18)
- FamiLEE saga: Who’s involved (Jun 17)
- FamiLEE saga: Is a grant of probate really final? (Jun 17)
- FamiLEE saga: Somebody should just sue (Jun 17)
- FamiLEE saga: PM Lee’s version of events (Jun 16)
- FamiLEE saga: Let a third party tell all (Jun 16)
- FamiLEE saga: The past three days (Jun 16)
- FamiLEE saga: How Lee Suet Fern got LWL her inheritance, according to leaked emails (Jun 15)
- FamiLEE saga: Singaporeans react with confusion, humour and CSI skills (Jun 15)
- FamiLEE saga: From 38 Oxley Road to 1 Parliament Place, not just a family affair (Jun 15)
- FamiLEE saga: Headlines around the world (Jun 15)
- FamiLEE saga: Now about that mysterious ministerial committee (Jun 15)
- Not just a famiLEE affair (Jun 14)
- Third generation Lee weighs in (Jun 14)
- “We do not trust Hsien Loong as a brother or as a leader. We have lost confidence in him.” (Jun 14)
Featured image from PM Lee’s Facebook page.
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