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  • Writer's pictureJulie O'Connor

In the Shadow of the Law: Unravelling the Ties Between Politics and Justice in Singapore

The response by Anil Nayar, Singapore’s High Commissioner to Australia, to this article by the Australian Financial Review, has garnered attention for what it omits as well as what it includes. I find it remarkable that the Singapore High Commissioner has chosen to reference findings of the Disciplinary Tribunal in his commentary, when my understanding is that these were overturned on appeal.  If I'm not mistaken, on appeal the Court of 3 judges held:

A.    Lee Kuan Yew was of sound mind and content with his last will

  • “The Testator was legally trained, had a brilliant legal mind and was lucid at the time he signed the Last Will”  para 117 

  •  "the Testator ..  was in every way plainly meticulous with his wills" para 115 Ibid

  • "after the Last Will was signed, he [Lee Kuan Yew] was content with it. ...  He did not revisit it, apart from the providing of the bequest of two carpets to Mr Lee Hsien Yang in the Codicil" para 163 Ibid

B.    There was no dishonesty by Lee Suet Fern to Lee Kuan Yew

  • "Lack of dishonesty in her dealings with [Lee Kuan Yew]: we find that she did not act dishonestly in her dealings with [Lee Kuan Yew]]" para 159 Ibid

  • The Court also made no finding that either Lee Hsien Yang or Lee Suet Fern had lied on oath at the Tribunal.

C.     No professional relationship existed between Lee Kuan Yew and his daughter-in-law, Lee Suet Fern

  • "We respectfully disagree with the DT ...  that a solicitor -client relationship arose between [Lee Suet Fern] and [Lee Kuan Yew]." para 133 Ibid 

  • "we hold that no implied retainer arose" para 132 Ibid

D.     There was no communications by Lee Kuan Yew to Lee Suet Fern.  Kwa Kim Li was Lee Kuan Yew's solicitor throughout. Unlike what was found in the DT, the Court on appeal found that Kwa Kim Li was Lee Kuan Yew’s lawyer throughout including and in particular for his last will.

  • "Miss Kwa was his regular solicitor."  "[Lee Kuan Yew] regarded Miss Kwa as his solicitor" para 89 Ibid 

  • "we do not think that [Lee Kuan Yew] ever ceased to regard Ms Kwa as his solicitor" para 130 Ibid

  • Lee Kuan Yew had not "regarded [Lee Suet Fern] as his solicitor for the preparation and execution of the Last Will" para 130 Ibid

  • "There were ... no ... communications [by Lee Kuan Yew to Lee Suet Fern]" on Lee Kuan Yew's Last Will para 91 Ibid

  • “We have found no solicitor-client relationship existed between [Lee Suet Fern] and [Lee Kuan Yew]” para 156 Ibid

  • “[Lee Suet Fern ] was ultimately not in a solicitor-client relationship with [Lee Kuan Yew]” para 171 Ibid

In addition to the above, a distinguished Queen’s Counsel has expressed the opinion that the guilty verdict handed down by the Court of Three Judges in the case of Lee Suet Fern was legally unsound. Furthermore, Freedom House scores Singapore very low for judicial independence. The structure of Singapore’s judiciary, where the president appoints top judges based on the prime minister’s advice, has come under scrutiny. The government’s track record of prevailing in court cases that bear significance to its political agenda has sparked skepticism regarding the independence of the judiciary. This concern is particularly pronounced in defamation suits and legal proceedings against those who oppose the government.

The familial estrangement between the Prime Minister and his brother is no secret, and along with conflicts of interest involving the Attorney General, this adds complexity to the situation, especially concerning the handling of Lee Kuan Yew's Will. The Attorney General was the personal lawyer of the Prime Minister during Probate, and it appears he raised no objections to matters surrounding the drafting of the Will at that relevant time.

My interest in the cases involving Lee Suet Fern and Li Shengwu, as well as the pursuit of fair justice in Singapore, stems from similar concerns. I find myself in a situation that mirrors theirs in respect of facing conflicts of interest involving the Attorney General and a member of Singapore’s ruling party. My family fell prey to a deceptive plot involving a prominent and wealthy individual from Singapore, who had legal representation from a PAP MP and is/was a client of the law firm previously managed by the present Attorney General. The conspiracy we faced included the use of documentation from DBS, a bank with government ties, and an option deed supposedly created by a politically affiliated law firm. Despite presenting serious allegations, including but not limited to forgery, and the offering of financial inducements to retract legal proceedings which would arguably mislead investors, the Singapore Police, following advice from the Attorney General’s Chambers, have opted not to pursue an investigation into the client of the former law firm of the Attorney General.

So now the pivotal issue at hand is whether President Tharman is a man of his word and will honour his commitment to initiate impartial investigations if conflicts arise, including to verify the absence of institutional concealment and ensure that the system is not being misused for the protection of influential individuals or for the pursuit of personal grudges.

  • “We’ve never had a prime minister (who) prevents the CPIB from doing its work. If ever the day comes, the president will be there... that’s the Singapore system,”

  • He stressed that anything to do with integrity and incorruptibility is taken seriously, and that CPIB is given full rein."

  • “Our whole system is set up to ensure there’s no compromise when it comes to integrity,” ~ President Tharman

I am not a lawyer, but my understanding is that the prosecution of Lee Suet Fern was based on extensive statutory declarations by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, where amongst others, he asserted that Lee Kuan Yew did not know what he was signing and signed a will prepared by Lee Suet Fern, who was acting as his solicitor.  Based on the decision of the Court on appeal, if these assertions were made on oath by the Prime Minister, surely these now need to be independently investigated? In a similar vein, given the conflicts of interest, the seriousness of the allegations directed at the client of the Attorney General’s previous law firm, as well as the conduct of financial and legal institutions, I believe unbiased investigations are warranted into the concerns which I have recently raised with both CPIB and President Tharman, and those concerns which have been raised by others.   

Anil Nayar, as Singapore’s High Commissioner to Australia, should arguably concentrate on matters beyond the Prime Minister’s familial disputes, such as the plight of an Australian family caught in a fraud conspiracy. This situation is particularly pressing given the apparent reluctance of Singaporean authorities to investigate, which seems to contradict the principle that all individuals, regardless of their lineage or status, are to be treated equally under the law in Singapore. In Anil Nayar's own words "It is precisely Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy that no individual – not even a son of his – is above the law." So why are Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern being investigated, when a former client of a Senior Minister who offered a financial incentive in order to buy himself out of trouble is not? Perhaps, the Australian Financial Review can ask Singapore's High Commissioner that question.

The issues I’ve outlined highlight the importance of looking past the well-crafted image that Singapore’s ruling party has showcased to the public. It’s crucial for Singaporeans to be fully informed about the realities of their governance as they make their way to the voting booths to choose their leaders, and likewise for international investors looking to undertake business with or invest in Singapore companies. Only with this knowledge can they discern which stories truly align with reality—whether it’s the narratives spun by the establishment to maintain Singapore’s image of integrity or the accounts of those brave enough to reveal the vulnerabilities beneath the surface.


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