The statements made by Lee Kuan Yew’s lawyer, Kwa Kim Li to the executors of his estate regarding the late statesman’s will were false and misleading, the High Court ruled on Wednesday (21 Apr).
In finding that there was a prima facie case of sufficient gravity for a formal investigation in the fourth head, Justice Valerie Thean in her written judgement said that the “frame and opening” of Ms Kwa’s 4 Jun 2015 email gave the impression that it was to be “a comprehensive summary of the work” she had done on the first six wills and the Oxley Road house.
Ms Kwa had framed the request for information made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) and Dr Lee Weiling (LWL) as one for “file records” of Mr LKY’s previous wills and “for notes/emails/information on his instructions to [Ms Kwa] regarding Oxley”.
Ms Kwa had “seemingly limited” the scope of this request to information regarding the first six wills, with a focus on the Oxley Road property, said Justice Thean.
However, Ms Kwa had neglected to insert information on Mr LKY’s instructions regarding changes to the sixth will and his discussions with her regarding the Oxley Road property in 2013, the judge noted.
“This could have misled the executors into thinking that the 4 June 2015 Email contained everything regarding the first six wills and the Oxley property,” said Justice Thean.
Ms Kwa’s 22 Jun 2015 email also “made a representation that was not true, and omitted to answer fully the specific question that was repeated”, she added.
The 22 Jun 2015 email, Justice Thean noted, was framed as a reply to PM Lee’s request for a copy of a draft will dated 19 Aug 2011.
On factual grounds, Justice Thean concurred that Ms Kwa’s statements in both of the Jun 2015 emails could be said to be prima facie false and misleading.
This is because the emails of 30 Nov 2013 and 12 Dec 2013 had shown Mr LKY instructing Ms Kwa regarding changes to his sixth will, with the latter referencing adding a codicil to change the shares given to each of his children — the beneficiaries of his will.
The above emails, Justice Thean added, also reflected Mr LKY’s concerns about the demolition of the Oxley Road property.
The 13 Dec email referenced another codicil regarding carpets in the Oxley Road property, the judge added.
“In fact, the IC [Inquiry Committee] had stated as much, noting that the 12 and 13 December 2013 emails suggested that Mr Lee [Kuan Yew] had instructed Ms Kwa to prepare a codicil to the Sixth Will,” said Justice Thean.
This is contrary to Ms Kwa’s claim that Mr LKY did not issue any instructions to change his will after he had signed his sixth one.
Referencing the executors’ argument, Justice Thean noted that the IC contradicted itself in its first report by stating that the “emails dated 12 and 13 December 2013 suggests [sic] that [Mr Lee] had instructed [Ms Kwa] to prepare a codicil to the 6th Will”, before later stating that Ms Kwa’s statements were not false or misleading.
Ms Kwa also did not describe or attach the 30 Nov 2013 and 12 Dec 2013 emails in her response to PM Lee’s and Dr LWL’s requests for the background leading up to the signing of Mr LKY’s last will dated 17 Dec 2013.
On ethical grounds, however, Justice Thean ruled that two important issues warrant an examination by a DT: The first is the ethical duty owed by Ms Kwa in the present case; the second being her mental state relevant to that duty.
Both issues were not sufficiently considered by the IC, she said.
“In my view, an examination of the potential ethical breach and mental state appurtenant to such breach would be necessary to conclude whether, as an ethical matter, Ms Kwa’s statements were prima facie false and misleading,” she said.
Background of the application
Ms Kwa was tasked with preparing six out of the eight wills executed by Mr LKY before his death in Mar 2015.
Mr LKY’s first will in Dec 1995 was not prepared by Ms Kwa. She also denied being involved in the drafting of the final will that was executed in Nov 2012.
In their letter of complaint to the Law Society on 5 Sep 2019, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang — Mr LKY’s children and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s siblings — detailed four heads of complaints:
- Firstly, on how Ms Kwa had failed to carry out Mr LKY’s instructions to destroy his superseded wills;
- Secondly, on how Ms Kwa had breached attorney-client privilege and her duty to preserve the confidentiality of correspondences with Mr LKY. This is illustrated by her move to send PM Lee emails containing records of such communications when he was not an executor of the estate;
- Thirdly, on how Ms Kwa did not keep “proper contemporaneous notes and records” of all of Mr LKY’s advice and instructions to her; and
- Fourthly, on how Ms Kwa had supplied “false and misleading information” to the executors in her emails dated 4 Jun 2015 and 22 Jun 2015.
The Law Society had rejected a formal investigation by a Disciplinary Tribunal (DT) with respect to the first, third and fourth heads of complaint following recommendations by an Inquiry Committee (IC).
Initially, the IC’s first report found a prima facie case regarding the first complaint. It recommended that the first and second complaint ought to be referred to a DT while the other two heads should be dismissed.
However, after the Law Society Council posed queries on the first and second heads of complaint, the IC in a second report on 3 Aug last year held the view that the first should be dismissed.
This finding was made on the basis that the available documentary evidence did not successfully demonstrate that Mr Lee “had expressly intended for all of his prior Wills to be physically destroyed or torn up by [Ms Kwa]”.
Subsequently, Dr LWL and Mr LHY applied on 21 Sep last year to the High Court to seek an order compelling the Law Society to apply to the Chief Justice to convene a DT for the purpose of formally investigating the first, third and fourth heads of their complaint.
With this High Court judgement, the Law Society of Singapore is now required to refer complaints (1), (2) and (4) to the DT for a formal investigation.
The case at hand has links to several cases such as the defamation suit filed by PM Lee against TOC chief editor Terry Xu, the allegations put forth by PM Lee against Mr LHY over LKY’s last will, and the complaint filed by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) against Mr LHY’s spouse, Mrs Lee Suet Fern.
Her statement in 2017 came right after PM Lee said that the late Mr Lee’s final will was made in “very troubling circumstances”.
PM Lee raised the question of whether there was a conflict of interest when Mrs Lee helped prepare the final will, given how her husband stood to gain from the removal of his sister Dr LWL’s extra share of the estate in the will.
In response, Mr LHY said that Mrs Lee’s law firm did not draft any of the late Mr Lee’s wills.
“The will was drafted by Kwa Kim Li of Lee&Lee,” he said.
Ms Kwa did not make any public statement regarding the matter since 2017 until she was subpoenaed to testify in Mr Xu’s trial this year.
Mr Xu had relied heavily on the communications between Ms Kwa and Mr LKY and his children in his defamation case — part of the documents obtained from Mrs Lee’s disciplinary tribunal proceedings.
When she gave her testimony, Ms Kwa claimed attorney-client privilege against many of the questions raised to her.
In Mrs Lee’s case, the Court of Three Judges (COTJ) ordered Mrs Lee’s suspension from legal practice for 15 months on 20 Nov last year.
The COTJ — Singapore’s apex disciplinary body in dealing with lawyers’ misconduct — issued its judgment in relation to the alleged conflict of interest present in Mrs Lee’s involvement with Mr LKY’s last will on 17 December 2013.
The complaint of conflict was filed by the AGC — headed by Mr Lucien Wong, who is said to have recused himself from the matter but at the same time is also PM Lee’s former personal lawyer — on the matters of LKY’s last will.
Differing from the findings of the DT — convened as a result of the AGC’s complaint — which earlier found Mrs Lee guilty of grossly improper professional misconduct under Section 83(2)(b) of the Legal Profession Act, the COTJ was not satisfied with the assertion that Mr LKY had viewed Mrs Lee as his acting solicitor.
The COTJ, led by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, however, was not of the view that a solicitor with Mrs Lee’s level of seniority could reasonably believe that an implied retainer did not exist between her and Mr LKY under such circumstances.