Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that he did not see the need to further clarify with his father on his understanding on whether 38 Oxley Road was to be gazetted.
He disclosed this when testifying as a witness on the second day of the PM’s defamation suit trial against TOC chief editor Terry Xu on Tuesday (1 December).
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.
Mr Xu’s lawyer Lim Tean asked the prime minister during cross-examination if he had “challenged” Mr LKY’s understanding of the gazetting issue in an email sent on 11 August 2011.
Quoting the email sent by Mr LKY to his three children as well as his lawyer Kwa Kim Li in court, Mr Lim read:
“I spoke to Loong, and asked him if he intends to retain Oxley as a heritage site. He replied ‘inevitably so given the strong views in Cabinet’.”
Based on this, Mr Lim asked PM Lee if his father already had the impression that the house will be gazetted.
To this, PM Lee replied: “Inevitably so means when the time comes, if the matter comes up before Cabinet, that is most likely going to be the outcome. It does not mean it has been gazetted. There is a world of different between an assessment that it is likely to happen, very likely to happen, and saying it has already happened.”
“My father’s answer accurately presents the status on 11 August 2011, which is it is inevitably going to be gazetted, meaning what I had read out I had told him,” he added.
Mr Lim then pointed out that “inevitably going to be gazetted” means it will be done sometime in the future.
As a reply, PM Lee reiterated: “I have explained to you what I told my father. I have read out the email he sent on 11 August and this is his interpretation and summary of what I told him.”
“It was my assessment then. It was my honest assessment and I stand by it. But if it went before the Cabinet, it is very, very unlikely that the Cabinet will agree to have it knocked down,” the prime minister added.
When asked if he “challenged” his father’s understanding of the situation about gazetting the property at that time around 11 August after Mr LKY wrote the email, the prime minister added that he did not do so as Mr LKY “understood” the situation.
“Because there is no misunderstanding because he understood it as can be seen by his subsequent email to Cabinet in December when he reported the ministers’ views. He didn’t say since the house had been gazetted therefore we will reinforce it and let it out.
“It is just that he has heard the ministers’ views. If the house is to be retained then the following should happen.
“In other words, the house has not been retained, but if it is to be retained then the following should happen. So it is quite clear what he meant,” PM Lee explained.
Mr Lim also referenced an email Mr LKY wrote on 3 October 2011 to PM Lee’s wife Ho Ching, in which Mr LKY said “Loong as PM has indicated that he will declare it a heritage site” and that such “will put an end to any rebuilding”.
The email was also copied to PM Lee, Mr LHY and Dr LWL.
Mr Lim questioned PM Lee whether he replied to the email.
PM Lee answered that he did not answer to that email and explained that it was because he and his wife had “followed up on the matter and we engaged the architect and we discussed it with him — and we discussed it repeatedly with him”.
“Which is why on 10 December he (LKY) wrote that email saying “Ho Ching and Loong have discussed this house with me many times” … We must have clarified the position on the rebuilding, because otherwise we would not have gone ahead with the plans and he would not have approved the plans,” PM Lee added.
Stressing that he has pointed Mr Lee to “numerous emails” in which Mr LKY had “indicated that you, as the prime minister, would declare 38 Oxley Road as a heritage site”, Mr Lim questioned why PM Lee “would not have corrected that impression” when his position was that gazetting 38 Oxley Road was the Cabinet’s decision.
“I have already gone through this many times. First of all, this is not the issue of the meaning which is in dispute, because the question is did I tell him, did I tell my father that the house has been gazetted? And the answer is clearly no,” PM Lee replied.
The prime minister added: “Secondly, as to what he understood about the status in future, he had seen Cabinet, I had explained it to him, and he was under no misapprehension in 2011 and early 2012 as to what the status would be, was or would be.”
Both PM Lee’s and Mr Xu’s sides are expected to send written submissions to the court in January.