Republished from Singapore Recalcitrant, a blog of Mr Yoong Siew Wah, a former director of the Internal Security Department in the 1970s.
The passing of a Titan
The passing of Francis Seow in Boston, USA, came as a bit of a staggering news to Singaporeans, especially those who knew him well. As is to be expected, the Straits Times does not carry or is afraid to carry the news for obvious reasons.
The career of Francis Seow as a legal counsel of the Singapore Government in the 1950’s and 60’s was one of the most dramatic and sensational in the manner in which he prosecuted whether in the criminal court or a Commission of Inquiry. The late David Marshall was a class of his own as a defence lawyer and in a similar vein Francis Seow was a class of his own as a Government prosecutor. The late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew regarded Francis Seow as an inimitable gem and held him in high respect.
Politically, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was greatly troubled by the brazen pro-communist activities of Chinese school students who were encouraged and supported, both politically and financially,in their nefarious acts by none other than the President of the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SCCC). Lee was so impressed with the unique talent of Francis Seow that he appointed him the Government inquisitor to expose the complicity of the SCCC president in a Commission of Inquiry in the notorious Secondary IV examination manipulation by Chinese school students in 1963 prior to Singapore’s entry into Malaysia. Francis Seow, with his exceptional prosecutor’s skill, had very dramatically and convincingly reduced the SCCC president to a physical wreck with all his secret dealings with the Chinese school students exposed thoroughly. And Lee Kuan Yew thus scored a political victory over the SCCC president. Francis Seow was awarded with a gold medal.
Things began to sour up between Lee Kuan Yew and Francis Seow after the latter resigned from government service to go into private practice. Lee was so afraid that Francis Seow would pose a formidable opponent to him, both politically and administratively. Lee was so devious that he would imagine all kinds of evil acts that Francis Seow was going to foist on him that he would take pre-emptive action. Lee even accused the writer of abusing his authority when he was Director CPIB in helping Francis Seow in the discharge of some detectives for pilfering his property when they were investigating a theft in his dwelling. As it turned out this was nothing more than a figment of his imagination. But he was so vindictive that he defamed the writer by stating on TV that he had dismissed the writer, but it was pointed out to him that he had on the contrary promoted the writer to the post of Director ISD.
Somehow, the name Francis Seow struck a feeling of fear on Lee Kuan Yew. He detained Francis Seow under the ISA for 72 days in 1988 accusing Francis of having received funds from the United States of America to promote democracy in Singapore. He was no stranger to fantasy and this was too far-fetched for people to believe. Francis Seow was released before the General Election in 1988 and his announcement of taking part in the General Election threw Lee Kuan Yew into a spasm. Lee knew that Francis Seow had the charisma to sway voters in his favour and the idea of Francis Seow entering Parliament would upset his equilibrium with Francis’ eloquence.
Francis Seow and two fellow candidates contested the Eunos GRC against Tay Eng Soon from the PAP. Lee was determined by hook or by crook to prevent Francis Seow’s team from capturing the Eunos GRC. And Lee had no compunction in using even underhand methods to secure a PAP victory. Even Chinese primary school teachers were mobilised to distribute pamphlets to persuade voters not to vote for Francis Seow. In the end the PAP team won by a whisker of 50.9 % despite all their bullying tactics. Francis Seow and his team had the honour of securing 49.1 % of the votes.
Lee Kuan Yew was determined to fix Francis Seow and ordered the Comptroller of Income Tax to fix him. This suited the Comptroller as he was a sworn enemy of Francis Seow and how he managed to dig up the dirt to charge Francis Seow with tax evasion is still a mystery. Francis Seow left for the United States and never returned.
Now both Lee Kuan Yew and Francis Seow have departed from the good earth and it is a matter of intricate diplomacy whose name is more morally accepted to the people. The netizens will have no difficulty in picking Francis Seow as their man of the moment. Renowned historians have not so far given any verdict on Lee Kuan Yew.