Defamation trial: PM Lee confronted with email disclosing K Shanmugam’s assistance on LKY’s will, referencing his comment on preserving 38 Oxley Road for historical reasons

On the second day of the trial of his defamation suit against TOC chief editor Terry Xu, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was confronted with email correspondence between his sister Dr Lee Wei Ling and their late father Lee Kuan Yew, which referenced the PM’s comment on preserving 38 Oxley Road for historical reasons.

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.

In his cross-examination of PM Lee at the witness stand, Mr Xu’s lawyer Lim Tean pointed to an email sent by Dr LWL to Mr LKY dated 15 August 2011, which read:

“There is a platoon of people trooping through Oxley right now. I don’t like it and it will be worse if it is ever open to public. Shan [must be referring to Shanmugam] says Loong’s decision must be based on the historical value of Oxley.”

“There is nothing in Oxley now that reflects the formation of the PAP in the 1950s. I am not going to read the rest of that email, all right?” Mr Lim told PM Lee.

Mr Lim then highlighted the line in which Dr LWL stated that according to Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, PM Lee’s decision on whether to demolish or preserve the 38 Oxley Road property “must be based on” its “historical value”.

“She is saying Mr Shanmugam is telling her that you want to preserve Oxley, 38 Oxley Road, because of the historical value, not the Cabinet wanting to preserve, but you wanting to preserve?” Mr Lim questioned.

PM Lee replied: “He doesn’t say that I want to preserve. He says a decision must be based on the historical value. My sister doesn’t think there is historical value.”

Mr Lim then reiterated the particular line in Dr LWL’s email regarding PM Lee’s purported comment on retaining the 38 Oxley Road home based on its historical value.

“So she is telling her father she has heard from Mr Shanmugam that you want to preserve 38 Oxley Road because of the historical value?” Mr Lim probed.

PM Lee disagreed, saying: “‘The decision must be based on the historical value’ means you must make an assessment of the historical value and decide. It doesn’t mean that I have taken a view of what the historical value is or that I have decided. It is conditional.”

Referencing a Facebook post by Dr LWL on 17 June 2017, titled “Shanmugam was extensively consulted and advised my father over lunch”, Mr Lim highlighted the portion of an email sent by Dr LWL to Mr Shanmugam, which was cited by herself in the post. The email was copied to Mr LHY.

“She exhibits an email from 29 July 2011 at 6.55 pm to Shanmugam at the Ministry of Law, Lee Hsien Yang and the subject is Oxley”, said Mr Lim. The portion read:

“MM the father thinks Loong asked him to speak to the Cabinet because Loong wanted the Cabinet to tell the father they want it preserved. He is agreeable to your suggestion. I told him after you meet with Yang and me then we decide how to draft his will with regards to this house.”

Mr Lim then questioned PM Lee if he agreed that based on the email, Mr Shanmugam was actually helping Mr LKY, Mr LHY and Dr LWL on “ways on how to draft his will so that his demolition wish could be fulfilled”.

PM Lee replied: “I think he was offering legal help. I do not know that you are able to infer from this his personal view on the house.”

When Mr Lim pointed out that PM Lee had evidenced that the ministers were unanimous in telling Mr LKY that they were against the demolition of 38 Oxley Road in a meeting on 21 July 2011, PM Lee testified that while he did not think that Mr Shanmugam was present at the meeting, he had “reason to believe” that the law minister “also believes that the house should not be demolished”.

Mr Lim then probed PM Lee: “Why would he be offering help to your father and your siblings on how to draft the will to fulfil the demolition wish of your father if he believes that the house should not be demolished?”

“Well, because he is a personal friend of my sister and to help to draft a clause to express the wishes of my father is one thing, but his personal view whether it should be done. And what he will recommend to do and argue for as a member of the Cabinet is a different matter,” said PM Lee.

“I have recused myself from the Government’s handling of the case completely”: PM Lee

On the first day of the trial, PM Lee testified that he had recused himself from deciding on 38 Oxley Road matters.

“As I explained in Parliament in 2017, I have detached myself from the cause of the feud. I no longer own — I do not own 38 Oxley Road, which was the issue. I have sold it to my brother and I have recused myself from the Government’s handling of the case completely,” PM Lee explained during Mr Lim’s cross-examination of him on Monday.

He stressed that he has “nothing to do with any decisions” the Government makes on 38 Oxley Road and that subsequently, there is “really nothing which I can do or not do which can influence” whether the house will be demolished.

The trial continues today (2 December) at 10 am, with Mr Xu taking the stand.

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