June 17, 2017 4:02 am JST

Singapore's first family trading blows on Facebook

Last will of Lee Kuan Yew in dispute, rule of law an issue

MAYUKO TANI, Nikkei staff writer

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and wife Ho Ching, left, are embroiled in a family feud over the last will of the late Lee Kuan Yew, the city-state's founding father. © AP

SINGAPORE -- Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has exchanged pointed words with his brother and sister over the private legacy of their late father, Lee Kuan Yew, stating publicly on Thursday that he has "serious questions" and "grave concerns" about how his father's will was drawn up -- a disquieting development in a country that prides itself on the rule of law.

"[M]y siblings have continued to give interviews and make allegations against me," the prime minister said in a remarkably frank Facebook statement posted while vacationing abroad. "This makes it untenable for me not to respond publicly to the allegations and to explain why I have serious questions about how my father's Last Will was prepared."

Lee Kuan Yew's oldest son posted a 41-paragraph "statutory declaration" outlining his position. Nine questions were listed over the events surrounding the drafting of the will, including the role of his brother's wife, the well-known lawyer Lee Suet Fern, and possible conflicts of interest. Lee laid out a detailed timeline to demonstrate the will's hurried preparation and his sister-in-law's involvement. He called into question the inclusion of a clause that would lead to the demolition of the home of Singapore's founding father. "I believe it is necessary to go beyond the Last Will in order to establish what Mr. Lee Kuan Yew's thinking and wishes were in relation to the House," he concluded.

Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Wei Ling, the prime minister's younger siblings, quickly reacted on Facebook. Wei Ling, a former director of the National Neuroscience Institute, posted her email exchange with Suet Fern to prove that her older brother's "allegations are false." Hsien Yang, a former group CEO of Singapore Telecommunications, also contradicted some of his brother's statement.

The family feud surfaced on Wednesday, when the two younger Lees accused the prime minister of "misuse of power" in an early-morning Facebook posting. Hsien Yang said he would "leave Singapore for the foreseeable future" because of his brother and that "Hsien Loong is the only reason for my departure."

The family row centers on disagreement over what to do with their father's house near the Orchard central commercial area. The senior Lee had openly stated his desire to have it demolished after his death, or immediately after his daughter moves out, and this appeared in his will. Lee died in March 2015, and his younger children wanted to assure the house would be demolished after Wei Ling, who continues to live in the house, moves out. They maintain that their brother wanted to keep the house to "enhance his political capital." The younger siblings claimed the motivation of the prime minister and his wife, CEO Ho Ching of state investment company Temasek Holdings, related to "political ambitions" for son Li Hongyi. Lee Hsien Loong dismissed this as an "absurd claim."

The prime minister's release of his statutory declaration seeks to question the last will of Lee Kuan Yew, "especially the reinsertion of the demolition clause," said Eugene Tan, associate professor of law at Singapore Management University.

"It's a serious accusation and [the prime minister's] siblings have responded robustly as well," Tan said. "The jury is still out as to whose version would prevail."

Tan argued that it is "too early to say" whether the row will have any impact on the national leadership and the economy, explaining that "much will depend on which narrative of the deep disagreement prevails."

In a Singapore that prizes political stability, transparency and the rule of law as pillars that have supported its economic development, questions hanging over the father of the nation's legacy are unwelcome. The family drama has been closely followed on social media, and no one is guessing how badly it will end.

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