The equal division of shares in Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew’s estate among his three children was “not a new idea”, contrary to allegations made against his son Lee Hsien Yang and his wife Lee Suet Fern, argued Mrs Lee’s counsels.
The lawyers in their defence submissions highlighted that the late Mr LKY had already indicated his desire to divide the shares equally in his original 2011 will, and had discussed making changes to his will with his lawyer Ms Kwa Kim Li from “at least November 2013”.
Ms Kwa was tasked with drafting all of Mr LKY’s wills from the first one to the sixth — the penultimate — will from 2011 to 2012.
The Disciplinary Tribunal that heard Mrs Lee’s case found that she had arranged the revocation of the sixth will with Mr LKY and the execution of a new will — which was to be Mr LKY’s last will — despite Mr LKY’s agreement to execute a codicil to the sixth will.
The tribunal in a report released last Fri (21 Feb) said that Mr LKY had signed the last will out of trust in Mrs Lee’s words, namely that the content of the last will’s draft was the same as his first will in 2011.
Mrs Lee’s lawyers argued in their submissions that Mr LKY decision to revert to equally dividing the shares was made long before Mrs Lee was involved in the preparation of the will, and it was Ms Kwa who had advised him on the terms of his will.
“Mrs Lee merely forwarded what she thought was the original 2011 Will to Mr LKY, and copied it to Ms Kwa to be engrossed,” they said.
Mrs Lee’s lawyers reiterated that Mr LKY had read the draft “carefully” before instructing its engrossment and “initialled every page” after. He had re-read the will and subsequently instructed for a copy be sent to Ms Kwa, informing her that this i[s] the agreement between the siblings”.
“He read the Will again and personally drafted a codicil. To allege as the Law Society has done that Mr Lee Kuan Yew was misled as to the contents of the Will is totally implausible,” Mrs Lee’s lawyers said.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew “accustomed to having his instructions carried out without delay”, precipitated the signing of the last will on his own volition: Mrs Lee Suet Fern’s lawyers
Noting that Mr LKY 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”, the lawyers argued that Mr LKY “knew exactly what he wanted” and “was accustomed to having his instructions carried out without delay”.
Ms Kwa had, according to Mrs Lee’s lawyers, promised in a previous email that she would have prepared something for Mr Lee by the end of the week on 15 Dec. However, she had not done so.
It was thus evident, according to the lawyers, that Mr LKY himself could not wait for Ms Kwa any longer, as seen in Mr LKY’s instruction to Mr LHY — sent via email — to not wait for Ms Kwa and instead to have him sign the will, whether in Mrs Lee’s office or “from any other office”.
Further, the above also illustrated that Mr LKY was happy to execute the will before any solicitor, according to the defence.
Mrs Lee’s role in the situation, the lawyers argued, was “peripheral”, and she was only made to be involved due to sheer convenience.
Mrs Lee’s lawyers earlier submitted that Mr LKY’s intention to have his house at 38 Oxley Road be demolished after his death has always been clear, as it was important to him and his late wife Kwa Geok Choo.
Ms Kwa Kim Li had also discussed the de-gazetting of the house, which Mrs Lee explained in a re-examination meant the “eventual demolition” of the house.
Further, Mrs Lee and Mr LHY were not aware that the demolition clause had even been modified in the sixth will made in Nov 2012.
“The Demolition Clause is not the subject of the AGC complaint or the charges. It is wholly mischievous to mount a collateral attack on that clause in these proceedings. If anyone is aggrieved by its inclusion, he may challenge the clause in court. No one has done so,” said the lawyers.
The tribunal found that Mrs Lee did not inform Mr LKY that the draft last will included a demolition clause not present in the sixth will.
The demolition clause — which concerned the demolition of his family home at 38 Oxley Road — were present in Mr LKY’s first four wills. It was later removed from his fifth and sixth wills.
Any irregularities would have been “exposed practically immediately”; Ms Kwa did not at any point alert Mr LKY: Mrs Lee’s defence lawyers
Addressing the Law Society’s point about Mr LHY purportedly cutting Ms Kwa out of the email correspondence concerning the last will, Mrs Lee’s lawyers argued that if that was truly the case, it would not have made sense for Mrs Lee to send her a copy of the draft will before execution nor to tell her after the will had been executed.
Any irregularities, they argued, would have been “exposed practically immediately”, as Ms Kwa could have alerted Mr LKY and subsequently enable him to change his will again.
“She did not do so at any time during the remaining 15 months of Mr Lee’s life,” noted Mrs Lee’s lawyers.
Mrs Lee’s lawyers also challenged the Law Society’s allegations against Mrs Lee and Mr LHY — who branded them “evasive” and untruthful witnesses — as the statements made by Mr LHY were based on statements made out of court “by persons who were not called as witnesses”.
“It is not acceptable for the Law Society to behave as though such statements are presumed to be true without having tested them in cross-examination and accuse witnesses of lying on such a basis,” they argued.
Further, it was unsurprising that Mrs Lee and Mr LHY were unable to remember every detail pertaining to the circumstances surrounding the last will, as they were “being badgered about events that took place nearly six years ago”.
Mrs Lee had also clarified repeatedly under cross-examination that she did not “adopt” the facts set out in the letters from the Estate to the Ministerial Committee, and had explained that she was only referring to the letters to underline her own belief that the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) already had the answers they were seeking regarding her involvement in drafting and executing the last will from said letters.
Her lawyers also stressed that Mrs Lee had specifically asked the AGC for more time to “provide a substantive response” to their questions regarding her involvement, as she needed to refresh her memory on the events which had occurred over five years before she was questioned.
Mrs Lee asking for more time to give a proper response, said her lawyers, is “entirely consistent” with her testimony under cross-examination when she explained that she was “frightened” by the grave allegations against her and wanted to go back and check so she could present an accurate account of the facts.
Addressing the Law Society’s alleged “misrepresentations” of Mr LHY’s public statements regarding Ms Kwa’s role in drafting Mr LKY’s will, Mrs Lee’s lawyers said that Mr LHY had referred to — in his Facebook post on 16 Jun 2013 — that Ms Kwa had drafted the original 2011 will, which the Law Society did not dispute.
Mr LHY had then subsequently made another Facebook post to clarify that Mr LKY’s last will was “a reversion to his 2011 will” that was drafted by Ms Kwa, in the event that his post could be misunderstood to mean that Ms Kwa was directly involved in the execution of the Dec 2013 will.
“A comparison of the two wills demonstrates that they are practically identical,” added Mrs Lee’s lawyers.
The lawyers also highlighted that Ms Kwa was advising Mr LKY on his last will “from at least November 2013”, and that Ms Kwa had sent an email to Mr LKY on 12 Dec the same year titled “Codicil to equalize Ling”.
In the email on 12 Dec, Ms Kwa said that she will change Mr LKY’s existing will to revert to equal shares, and told Mr LKY that she had some thoughts on the Oxley property and would call Mr Lee later that day.
“This is clear evidence that Ms Kwa was closely involved in the discussions leading to the execution of the December 2013 Will,” said Mrs Lee’s lawyers, adding that it would be “misleading” to suggest otherwise.
Mrs Lee’s lawyers also countered the Law Society’s assertion that Ms Kwa was allegedly being prevented by their client and the estate from testifying or bringing evidence to the tribunal, pointing out that Ms Kwa was on the Law Society’s list of witnesses, and that there was nothing that could have disallowed them from subpoenaing her regardless whether she was willing.
Instead, the Law Society had refused to confirm whether she would be called as a witness, and eventually said that there was no need to call Ms Kwa to testify, “especially when the authenticity of the will is not in question”.
Addressing the issue of conflict of interest raised in one of the charges made against Mrs Lee, her lawyers said that the question of conflict of interest was moot as Mr LKY himself was aware of such a possibility — Mrs Lee being his daughter-in-law.
“When his lawyer Ms Kwa Kim Li could not be contacted, he told his son Mr Lee Hsien Yang to get it done. He certainly knew that the Respondent was the wife of Mr Lee Hsien Yang,” Mrs Lee’s lawyers argued.
Additionally, the question of conflict of interest — particularly regarding the Law Society’s suggestion that Mrs Lee had a role in helping increased Mr LHY’s share in the late Mr Lee’s estate — did not make sense, as the equal division of shares stated in the last will meant that Mr LHY’s share was in fact reduced.
Mrs Lee on Sun (23 Feb) indicated that she will “strongly” contest the tribunal findings when her case “is heard in open court”.
Her case will now be referred to the Court of Three Judges, which is Singapore’s apex disciplinary body in dealing with lawyers’ misconduct.
The lawyer may face a fine, or be suspended or disbarred from her profession if found guilty.
A Law Society spokesperson told The Straits Times on Tue (25 Feb) that it could take at least six months from the date of filing for the Court of Three Judges to hear the case based on preceding cases.