The late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had intended to pass down the 38 Oxley Road property to Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling before he was convinced that the house would potentially be gazetted by the government, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong testified in court on Tuesday (1 December).
He said this on the second day of the trial of his defamation suit against TOC chief editor Terry Xu.
PM Lee’s defamation suit against Mr Xu pertains to an article published by 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 LHY and Dr LWL in relation to the 38 Oxley Road dispute.
Mr Xu’s lawyer Lim Tean, in his cross-examination of PM Lee at the witness stand today, asked whether the late LKY had written in an email on 8 August 2011 his request to have the house passed down to LHY and Dr LWL.
“He wrote there: ‘Kim Li, put in my will that 38 Oxley Road will go to Yang and Ling on trust for sale to be divided in three shares between my children, but that Ling can occupy the house for as long as she lives,” Mr Lim said, quoting the email.
PM Lee affirmed that Mr LKY had written such a request.
Mr Lim went on to read the email sent by Mr LHY on 10 August 2011, in which Mr LHY had asked his late father to make clarifications in his will on certain matters.
Among the matters were Mr LKY’s intention to have the house demolished after Dr LWL has moved out and how he has “always been of the view that the house should never be converted into a museum for public viewing”.
Replying to the email, Mr LKY wrote that he had asked PM Lee’s opinion if he would want to retain the house as a heritage site, to which PM Lee told his late father “inevitably so given the strong views in Cabinet”.
Mr LKY also stated in the email that PM Lee had proposed to take the house as his one-third share of the estate and that it would be his decision as the Prime Minister to have the government “pay the three siblings the value of Oxley”.
To this, PM Lee confirmed that his late father had spoken to him before sending the email.
“I gave him my view which I have put in my supplementary AEIC and also in Parliament that given the strong views which the ministers had, which he had heard.
“I think it would be very difficult to override them and to knock down the house (regardless) if I were to chair the meeting and if I were not to chair the meeting,” he said.
Mr Lim asked if he had proposed to Mr LKY to give the house to him, to which PM Lee replied that he gave the suggestion to do so but it was his late father’s decision at the end of it.
When Mr Lim pressed that it was PM Lee’s suggestion to have the house willed to him, PM Lee argued that he and Dr LWL had “made the same suggestion” to have him take the house as part of his one-third share of the estate.
“I made the suggestion to him, but I was not the first to make that suggestion,” said PM Lee.
Mr Lim questioned PM Lee if he has told the late LKY that he was going to retain the house as a heritage site.
“I think it will be best if you can refer back to exactly what I said,” said PM Lee, while requesting to refer to the paragraph from his supplementary Affidavits of Evidence-in-Chief (AEIC).
Reading from his supplementary AEIC, PM Lee explained that he gave his “honest assessment” to his late father on what the government would do with the house after his father’s passing and told him that the Cabinet’s views would make it “very hard” for him to override them.
“I added that I would have to agree that the house had to be gazetted to be kept and if I was not the Prime Minister or I did not chair the meeting all the more likely the house would be gazetted,” he noted.
“I did not tell him then or at any time that the house had been gazetted,” PM Lee testified.
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 is adjourned to Wednesday morning (2 December) at 10 am.