Defamation trial: PM Lee denies being in favour of preserving 38 Oxley Road property, says he acts according to Govt’s powers

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong denied being in favour of preserving the 38 Oxley Road property and argued that he had to act according to the “government’s rights and powers” even if it means to accommodate other options if the house is to be preserved.

On the second day of PM Lee’s defamation suit trial against TOC chief editor Terry Xu on Tuesday (1 December), Mr Xu’s lawyer Lim Tean suggested that the late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew knew that no Cabinet would oppose PM Lee’s decision if he had wanted demolition.

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.

PM Lee responded to Mr Lim’s suggestion: “I think to the contrary, my father heard the ministers and knew where they stood, and I’ve explained to him where I had to stand if that is my ministers’ position and he understood.”

Referencing to the late LKY’s memo to the Cabinet dated 27 December 2011, PM Lee said the Cabinet were unanimous that the house should not be demolished hence his late father “gave weight” to their views.

“I am suggesting to you that your father knew that you called the shots and that you were not supporting him?” Mr Lim prompted, to which PM Lee replied that it contradicts with the record.

Mr Lim questioned if PM Lee and his wife Ho Ching were in favour of preserving the 38 Oxley Road property, to which PM Lee denied.

“We wanted to carry out our father’s wishes, but we recognised the government had right and powers and we would have to work within those. And therefore we considered what could be done if it was impossible to knock down the house,” said PM Lee.

PM Lee stressed that there is no basis to Mr Lim’s suggestion that he was trying to find ways to preserve the house and to avoid an argument on demolition.

He argued that the discussions took place when the late LKY was still alive, adding that he and Madam Ho would inform “the whole family” on the actions taken and ensure “collective decisions were taken”.

Mr Lim said he was suggesting that PM Lee might find it convenient to say that he was being pressured by others when the late LKY knew he was “the one who called the shots” on the demolition of the house.

PM Lee, however, rejected Mr Lim’s suggestion.

Mr Lim questioned if PM Lee’s siblings – Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling – were right about him wanting to preserve the house to inherit their late father’s credibility, to which PM Lee said was “rubbish”.

PM Lee also denied Mr Lim’s assertion that he had plans to move into the house. He then presented the late LKY’s email – which was sent to the Cabinet on 27 December 2011 – before the Court.

In the late LKY’s email – which was read out by PM Lee in Court – LKY stated that in the events the 38 Oxley Road property is to be preserved, the house’s foundations need to be “reinforced and the whole building refurbished”.

“It must then be let out for people to live in an empty billing will soon decline and decay. I underline it must then be let out for people to live in,” his email reads.

“I have the email. When it was clear where the cabinet stood and what the Cabinet was likely to do with the house after my father passed away, we began to think about what the fallback positions were if it was not possible for the house to be demolished,” said PM Lee.

PM Lee revealed that the most important part of the house – which needed to be preserved – was the dining room in the basement as the People’s Action Party (PAP) used to have meetings there in the early days.

He added that they still need to maintain the private living spaces of the late LKY and the late Kwa Geok Choo in the house after they have passed away, which can only be done by renovating the house.

PM Lee also presented Madam Ho’s email before the Court, where she had informed the family their preferences on the house – namely to demolish the house and build afresh, or to renovate and redevelop parts of the house so it can be rentable.

“If there is objection to renting out to say expats, then the family could consider moving in at least for the initial years and Ling [LWL] can use one of the big bedrooms, Loong and I can use the other big bedroom and so on,” PM Lee reads the email.

He went on to read the late LKY’s reply to Madam Ho, which LKY had stated that their late mother did not want the house to “become a museum” but instead agreed to refurbish and rent out the house.

PM Lee claimed that his late father subsequently wrote to DR LWL on 10 December 2011 saying that the 38 Oxley Road house is “too big for anyone to live alone”.

Referencing to the email, Mr Lim asked whether the late LKY had stated in the email that Madam Ho has offered a flat at Oxley Rise to Dr LWL because the house is too big for one person to live, to which PM Lee confirmed that he did.

“Because his view was that Oxley Road should be rented out and if it were rented out then my sister would not be able to live there.  Now, if I wanted to live there I would not have suggested to him to rent it out.  I did not suggest to him to rent it out.  He wanted to rent it out,” 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 is adjourned to Wednesday morning (2 December) at 10 am, wiith Mr Xu taking the stand.

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