Defamation trial: The late LKY was not moved by MSM editors’ views to retain 38 Oxley property, says PM Lee

The late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s personal preference to the end was to have the house at 38 Oxley Road to be demolished, despite the editors’ unanimous view was to have the house retained, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong testified in court on Monday (30 November).

PM Lee was responding to lawyer Lim Tean’s – who represents TOC chief editor Terry Xu in the defamation suit trial – question on whether the late LKY’s wish to have the house knocked down had remained until the day of his passing.

“I also said that in Parliament, but I think to be fair we should also recognize that he came to accept that the government has the right and was very likely to decide not to allow the house to be knocked down and therefore made arrangements to deal with that situation in order to protect his privacy should the house not be able to be knocked down,” he said.

PM Lee also confirmed that the late LKY had reiterated his wish to demolish the house in his memo to the cabinet on 27 October 2010, his “Hard Truth to Keep Singapore Going” book interview, and during his interviews with certain mainstream media in the past.

Citing PM Lee’s claims in the supplementary Affidavits of Evidence-in-Chief (AEIC), Mr Lim asked on what basis that he thinks many Singaporeans do not want the house to be demolished.

PM Lee justified that his late father’s wish to demolish the house had often triggered “a big outcry” in the early of 2011 and after the publication of the late LKY’s book.

He added that his late father had also “canvassed the views of senior editors” in the media, who had unanimously voiced that the house should not be knocked down.

These have resulted in his late father to leave the decisions to his three children, but PM Lee insisted him to make the decision.

“So he said if it is left to him please knock it down and then I said in that case, please tell the editors that you have instructed the three children, which he did,” said PM Lee.

Mr Lim brought up YouGov’s – a UK-based market research firm – poll in 2015 which showed that about 77 per cent of Singaporeans supported the late LKY’s decision to demolish the house, and only 15 per cent of the respondents wanted the house retained.

While PM Lee noted that he cannot recall the poll, he suggested that online polls should be “interpreted with caution”.

PM Lee also argued that his basis of public reaction to his late father’s decision was according to the public’s opinion “published in the newspapers” and “what the editors said”.

Mr Lim questioned PM Lee if the government had conducted a poll to gather the public’s opinion on the matter, but Justice Audrey Lim insisted to move on and focus on the issue as to whether the plaintiff had misled the late LKY into thinking that the government has gazetted the house.

Citing PM Lee’s assertion in the supplementary affidavit, Mr Lim asked if the late LKY had consulted with the Singapore Press Holdings’ (SPH) editors on the fate of the 38 Oxley property in March 2011, and whether the late LKY was not persuaded by the editors’ unanimous view to preserve the house given its historical importance and heritage involvement.

PM Lee confirmed that these were indeed correct and that his late father “was minded to leave the matter to his children to decide”.

Mr Lim probed him on whether the late LKY had stated in his email to the Lee siblings that he would firm with the decision to knock down the house, to which PM Lee confirmed that he did.

“So it is very clear that your father, despite what the editors may have told him, he was not moved and wanted the house knocked down?” the lawyer asked.

“The email trail speaks for itself.  He was minded to give some weight to the popular response. We told him to make up your mind one way or the other.  He said this was his preference that he wanted the house knocked down,” said PM Lee.

Background of PM Lee Hsien Loong’s defamation suit against TOC chief editor Terry Xu

PM Lee’s defamation suit against Mr Xu pertains to an article published on TOC on 15 August last year titled “PM Lee’s wife, Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members”.

The article contained alleged defamatory statements made by PM Lee’s siblings Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling in relation to the 38 Oxley Road dispute.

At the heart of the 38 Oxley Road dispute is the house owned by the Lee siblings’ late father and Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the elder Lee’s wish to have the house demolished instead of being turned into a museum or government relic.

Mr LHY and Dr LWL are joint executors and trustees of Mr LKY’s estate.

In a joint statement released on 14 June 2017, which was shared on their Facebook pages, PM Lee’s two younger siblings claimed, among multiple other allegations, that PM Lee and his wife Ho Ching had defied Mr LKY’s wish to demolish the house.

They also alleged that PM Lee and Mdm Ho were responsible for instilling and perpetuating the Government’s stance to preserve the house at 38 Oxley Road, including PM Lee’s purported move to demonstrate that Mr LKY had changed his mind on having the house demolished.

Mr LHY and Dr LWL also claimed that PM Lee had engaged in abuse of power as Prime Minister to obtain a copy of the Deed of Gift from then-Minister of National Development Lawrence Wong, which was then passed to his personal lawyer Lucien Wong at the time for his own purpose.

The younger Lee siblings also alleged that Mdm Ho wielded significant influence in the Government despite not being a public official. PM Lee issued a statement the same day to counter the allegations.

Despite that, Mr LHY and Dr LWL continued to make claims against PM Lee in subsequent Facebook posts.

Following that, PM Lee announced in June the same year his plans to deliver a ministerial statement in Parliament the next month to address the allegations made by his siblings.

The prime minister delivered his ministerial statement on 3 July 2017, in which he branded the allegations as baseless.PM Lee also said that he would not be suing Mr LHY and Dr LWL as doing so would further besmirch their parents’ name.

The next day, PM Lee delivered another ministerial statement, in which he said that he would not call for a Select Committee or a Commission of Inquiry to be convened into the 38 Oxley Road dispute and his siblings’ allegations.

Mr LHY and Dr LWL on 4 July — the same day PM Lee made his second ministerial statement on the matter — in a joint statement alleged that PM Lee had improperly misrepresented to LKY that the gazetting of 38 Oxley Road was either “inevitable” or that the house was already gazetted.

Two days later on 6 July, Mr LHY and Dr LWL jointly stated that they would not post any further evidence on the allegations if PM Lee and the Government do not interfere with Mr LKY’s wish — as well as their own — to have the house demolished.

PM Lee responded the same day by saying that he could not concede to his siblings’ demand to withdraw plans to deliver his ministerial statement and to hold the debate in Parliament, as well as disbanding the Ministerial Committee and not responding to their accusations.

Mr LHY and Dr LWL henceforth continued to make posts on matters relating to 38 Oxley Road.

However, PM Lee decided to file a defamation suit against Mr Xu for publishing the article that contained the allegedly defamatory statements made by Mr LHY and Dr LWL in relation to the 38 Oxley Road dispute.

Prior to that, PM Lee’s press secretary Chang Li Lin wrote to Mr Xu, asking the latter to remove the “libellous” article and to publish a “full and unconditional” apology.

PM Lee later began legal proceedings against Mr Xu after the latter had refused the demands made in Ms Chang’s letter.

The trial continues tomorrow on Tuesday (1 December).

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