Kwa Kim Li fined for S$13,000 for misleading executors of LKY’s will and failing to safeguard his confidentiality

Kwa Kim Li fined for S$13,000 for misleading executors of LKY’s will and failing to safeguard his confidentiality

SINGAPORE — Madam Kwa Kim Li, the former lawyer of Singapore’s late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (LKY), has been found guilty of a charge of misconduct in handling the wills of her high-profile client, as revealed in a judgement released last Friday (5 May).

A Disciplinary Tribunal (DT) determined that Mdm Kwa, who is the niece of LKY’s wife, had misled the executors of LKY’s estate, Dr Lee Wei Ling (LWL) and Mr Lee Hsien Yang (LHY), by omitting crucial information in response to their inquiries and by making false and misleading representations.

It ruled that her actions were unbefitting of an advocate and solicitor and ordered her to pay a penalty of $8,000.

In addition to the $8,000 penalty, the DT has also ordered Mdm Kwa to pay the costs of the Law Society of Singapore (LSS) in the sum of $12,000 and disbursements in the sum of $9,182.

The DT also ordered Mdm Kwa to pay a $5,000 penalty for a separate charge for failing to “scrupulously safeguard” LKY’s confidentiality while handling his will and pay LSS a cost of $5,000 and to bear all disbursements.

Emails sent by Mdm Kwa to Lee Hsien Loong

The two charges from LSS relate to a breach of confidentiality and misconduct, in that Mdm Kwa, is alleged, by way of the two emails, on 4 June 2015 and 22 June 2015, to have disclosed confidential client information to parties not entitled to receive the information, namely Mr Lee Hsien Loong (LHL), the executors’ elder brother and the Prime Minister of Singapore and failing to disclose her communications with LKY between November 2013 and 13 December 2013, regarding his intentions to change his will dated 2 November 2012.

The DT concluded that the communications between Mdm Kwa and LKY in November/December 2013 clearly show the following:

(a) On 29 November 2013, the LKY contacted Mdm Kwa to discuss his concerns that the Oxley Road property would be “de-gazetted” and expressed his desire to arrange for any increase in value upon such “de-gazetting” to be shared by LHL with LWL and LHY, rather than being retained solely by LHL, who was to inherit the Oxley property.

(b) In the week before 12 December 2013,  Mdm Kwa and LKY had a further discussion and discussed the shares that LHL, LWL, and LHY would each receive. During this conversation, the LKY indicated his wish to give all three children equal shares, in contrast to his existing will, where LWL received an extra share.

(c) In her email on 12 December 2013, Mdm Kwa stated that she would prepare a codicil to implement the LKY’s wish and have it ready for LKY’s signature that week or when he was prepared. Mdm Kwa also mentioned having “some thoughts” on the Oxley Road property and would call LKY later that day.

(d) On 13 December 2013, the LKY emailed Mdm Kwa requesting a further amendment to his will concerning the bequest of two carpets to LHY.

The November and December 2013 emails indicated that Mdm Kwa had indeed received instructions related to the changes that were shortly made, even though they may not have been finalized.

The DT found Mdm Kwa’s omission of these communications to be misleading, and her statement that LKY had never instructed her to change his will was false.

It also concluded that Mdm Kwa’s subjective view that the omission of the November and December 2013 communications did not render her letter misleading did not accord with the objective analysis of the events.

However, the DT did not find proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Mdm Kwa knowingly or deliberately misled the executors or intentionally made a false statement.

Despite this, the DT ruled that Mdm Kwa had failed to exercise due care and diligence in her communications, and her actions amounted to misconduct unbefitting an advocate and solicitor.

As for sending of email to LHL on 4 June 2015, Mdm Kwa pitched her breach of client confidentiality as being of the lowest level. She submitted that LKY would have wanted her to share the information with his children. Her position is that she released the information out of a deep sense of loyalty to LKY.

However, she admitted in an agreed statement of facts that she did not have specific instructions from LKY, prior to his death, to release such information to LHL in the email.

The two amended charges against Mdm Kwa, which encapsulate the DT’s findings, are as follows:

You, KWA KIM LI, an Advocate and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Singapore, are charged that you on or about the 4th day of June 2015 by your letter dated 4th June 2015 sent to Mr Lee Hsien Loong (“LHL”) are guilty of knowingly disclosing to LHL, without the consent / authority of the 2 Executors and Trustees named in Will No. 7 namely Ms Lee Wei Ling (“LWL”) and Mr Lee Hsien Yang (“LHY”), the following documents and information which was confidential to your client, Mr Lee Kuan Yew (“Mr Lee”), and which was acquired by you in the course of your engagement as Mr Lee’s solicitor namely; 5 of the previous Wills of Mr Lee prepared by you upon his instructions and email trails between Mr Lee and you from 11th December 2011 to 2nd November 2012 (“Documents Set A”) and explanations as to why your client Mr Lee changed his previous Wills which amounts to misconduct unbefitting of an advocate and solicitor as an officer of the Supreme Court or as a member of an honourable profession within the meaning of Section 83(2)(h) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap. 161).

The second amended charge on misleading the executors:

You, Mdm Kwa Kim Li, are charged that, by way of your letter 22 June 2015, you misled the Executors of the Estate of your former client Mr Lee Kuan Yew, namely Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, by omitting to disclose your communications with Mr Lee Kuan Yew between November 2013 and 13 December 2013 in response to their enquiries and by making the false and misleading representation that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had never instructed you to change his will dated 2 November 2012, such act amounting to misconduct unbefitting an advocate and solicitor as an officer of the Supreme Court within the meaning of s 83(2)(h) of the Legal Profession Act (Cap. 161, 2009 Rev Ed).

Kwa Kim Li said in 2017 that she did not prepare LKY’s last will

This case has its roots in 2017, when LHY and LWL issued a public statement about their brother, LHL, over the handling of their father’s last will and the fate of 38 Oxley Road.

During the 2017 saga, LHY had written to Channel NewsAsia that paragraph 7 of the last will was drafted at his father’s direction and “put into language” by his wife, Mrs Lee Suet Fern (LSF). When the elder Mr Lee was satisfied, he asked Mdm Kwa to insert it into his will.

This contradicted LHL’s statement in his statutory declaration to the ministerial committee, in which he said LSF, mentioned at the reading of the last will on 12 April 2015, that LKY had asked her to prepare the will.

When queried by CNA about LHY’s assertions, Mdm Kwa said,” “No, I did not prepare the last will”.

The seventh will or the last will of LKY has been the subject of many contentions between his three children. On top of issuing public statements by LHY and LWL in 2017, a parliamentary session was called by LHL in 2017, LHY’s son, Li Shengwu, was charged for contempt of court, Terry Xu was sued for defamation, and LSF was suspended from legal practice over the alleged involvement in the preparation and execution of LKY’s final will.

More recently, police investigations commenced upon LHY and LSF for allegedly lying in judicial proceedings about LKY’s will.

Given the findings of the DT, it remains unknown if similar police investigations will also be commenced on Madam Kwa.

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