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  • Writer's pictureJulie O'Connor

Vindictiveness: Navigating the Fog of Sontaku

Updated: 4 days ago




No morally upright individual wishes to witness a situation where a powerful entity, utilizes its resources to continuously attack the weaker counterpart. If the intention behind this swan song piece, published by what is often labeled as Singapore's propaganda press, was to illustrate Lee Hsien Loong's handling of critical situations over the past two decades, it failed miserably. Based on the feedback I've observed, people of moral integrity saw a last-ditch effort to discredit Lee Hsien Yang and his family before his brother relinquishes the Prime Minister's position. It's not sufficient that they are in exile, unable to return home to reunite with their loved ones. Or that Lee Hsien Yang faced what many saw as a politically motivated POFMA for a False Statement of Fact. And if that were not enough, is now faced with an ongoing 'questionable' defamation lawsuit launched by two Senior PAP Ministers, using Davinder Singh who has been Lee Hsien Loong's defamation lawyer. Apparently, the couple deserved one more public beating before the change of leadership takes place, for daring to speak truth to power. I always believed that family bonds were stronger than power and wealth, but perhaps it's not always the case.  It's worth noting that PAP Ministers have never lost a defamation suit in Singapore Courts over decades.


The irony of the article lies in the inclusion of the statement "The Prime Minister separates personal issues from public affairs, such as in the Oxley Road saga, according to those who have worked with him." Yet, this personal matter was not addressed in a Family or Probate Court but rather settled in Parliament. Now, it resurfaces in the national press within a piece detailing two decades of the Prime Minister's tenure. Notably, the Prime Minister's reign began in 2004, yet this hatchet piece's timeline commences in 2017. It was also evident that a senior PAP Minister was contributing to the narrative, adding to the perception of political involvement.


Indeed, the article accurately highlighted the serious accusation made by the Prime Minister's siblings, alleging the abuse of government influence to advance personal agendas. Such claims warrant thorough independent investigation rather than a dismissive "nothing to see here" attitude in Parliament, where party loyalty might well take precedence. It was akin to a boxing match where opponents were blindfolded and had their hands tied behind their backs—an unfair fight. In this match they were beaten up and not even allowed a say in Parliament. Would settling the matter in court have made a difference? Some argue it might have been a straightforward case, given the Attorney General's control over prosecutorial discretion and judges appointed on the Prime Minister's recommendation, where judgments against the government are rare, and I suspect would certainly not been allowed to happen in a case of such political importance. However, at least Singaporeans would have had the opportunity to see and hear the evidence supporting the allegations made by the Prime Minister's siblings. Instead of gathering information from sontaku press. I use that term as I suspect Singapore journalists are fully aware what political line to toe.


The article further asserted that "Mr. Lee denied their allegations. He had recused himself from all government matters relating to the house since April 2015, to avoid any conflict of interest." However, merely recusing oneself from matters overseen by subordinates one appoints and dismisses does little to lend credibility to any findings, in my view.


A recent report in the Straits Times highlighted the case of former Fiji PM Bainimarama, who was sentenced to jail for abusing his office and attempting to pervert the course of justice while in power by instructing the police commissioner not to investigate allegations. This revelation emerged only after he lost power to a coalition of parties.


I'm not insinuating that Lee Hsien Loong abused his power. However, we're left in the dark regarding whether the allegations against Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern hold merit or stem from a family feud and possible retaliatory actions by a sibling wielding considerable influence.


The article also mentioned that "Mr. Lee Hsien Yang is currently living overseas with his wife, lawyer Lee Suet Fern, amid a police investigation for allegedly giving false evidence in judicial proceedings over the founding prime minister’s will." Some might argue that they should have remained to clear their names, but that viewpoint overlooks the realities at play. Indeed, the investigations to me appear to be part of a continued political vendetta.


As I mentioned earlier, Lucien Wong, the current Attorney General, previously served as the personal lawyer of the Prime Minister. It is he who decides who is prosecuted or protected, depending on one's perspective. However, it raises questions about fairness when the odds of receiving a fair trial in Singapore, particularly for individuals entangled in government cases, seem slim.


In my opinion, the likelihood of Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern receiving fair treatment in Singapore's legal system might be comparable to winning big by simply throwing money at a colour in the Marina Bay Sands casino. Why didn't Lucien Wong, as the Prime Minister's personal lawyer, raise any concerns regarding Lee Kuan Yew's Will prior to Probate? It seems unusual to raise such concerns after one's client has been accused of abuse of power and after assuming the role of Attorney General.


Given my close attention to the Oxley case and my own apprehensions about the system, including a conflicted Attorney General, I feel compelled to remind people of the following facts after reading this latest 'hatchet piece':


Court of Three Judges (C3J) Summary


1. “We differ from certain findings made by the DT. In particular… we consider the Respondent did not receive instructions or directions directly from her putative client. We also do not find that there was an implied retainer between the Respondent and her putative client.”

 

"No professional relationship between LKY and his daughter-in-law, LSF"


"There was no express retainer between the Respondent [LSF] and the Testator [LKY]"

 

"we have found no solicitor-client relationship between the Respondent [LSF] and the Testator [LKY]." 


"We respectfully disagree with the DT ... that a solicitor -client relationship arose between the Respondent [LSF] and the Testator [LKY]." 


"we hold that no implied retainer arose"

 

“The absence of a solicitor client relationship between [LSF] and [LKY]” 


“We have found no solicitor-client relationship existed between [LSF] and [LKY]” 


“The Respondent {LSF] was ultimately not in a solicitor-client relationship with the Testator [LKY]” 


It beggars belief that Lee Suet Fern could be punished as a lawyer when she was not acting as a lawyer and this was purely help as a family member.


2. KWA KIM LI WAS LKY's solicitor throughout

"Miss Kwa was his regular solicitor." "the Testator [LKY] regarded Miss Kwa as his solicitor" 


"we do not think that the Testator [LKY] ever ceased to regard Ms Kwa as his solicitor

 

LKY had not "regarded the Respondent [LSF] as his solicitor for the preparation and execution of the Last Will" 


"There were ... no ... communications [by LKY to LSF]" on LKY's Last Will 


3. LSF did not make any amendments to the last will


"we have no basis to think that any changes were made by the Respondent [LSF] to the draft"


4. No dishonesty by LSF to LKY


"we do not find ...deliberate falsehood on her part". 


"Lack of dishonesty in her dealings with the Testator [LKY]: we find that she did not act dishonestly in her dealings with the Testator[LKY]" 


5. LKY 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” 


"the Testator .. was in every way plainly meticulous with his wills" 


"after the Last Will was signed, he [LKY] was content with it. ... He did not revisit it, apart from the providing of the bequest of two carpets to Mr LHY in the Codicil" 


Then there were the findings of Timothy Dutton CBE QC.


Timothy Dutton CBE QC is regarded as the pre-eminent Silk and ranked as a ‘star individual’ in professional disciplinary and professional negligence in Chambers and Legal 500. He is described as “the leading player in this area” and “the king of Law Society regulatory work”. He acts for and advises regulators, firms and individuals on regulatory and professional matters and often leads teams in complex regulatory matters and has undertaken numerous high profile cases. He is regarded as a giant in the area of professional discipline and has unrivalled knowledge and experience in the field. He has served as Chairman of the Bar Council and Head of Fountain Court Chambers.


He found that:


“ the judgment of the Court and its conclusion that LSF committed misconduct is flawed. The Court's reasoning in its judgment is legally unsound and falls into serious error.”


“The imposition of duties qua solicitor (when no such solicitor-client relationship was found by the Court) underpins the Court's judgment and is its central flaw.”


“It has imported into a family relationship the duties of a retained solicitor, and imposed a strict professional duty of care when none existed.”

“In my view, such findings would not be sustained on any appeal were one to be available against the judgment of the Court. Further, since the findings of misconduct are untenable no sanction should have been imposed.”


How many disciplinary proceedings have ever been brought in Singapore for simply drafting a family member’s will, much less for helping arrange for a signing? I couldn't find any. I thought that Lee Kuan Yew’s first will was drafted for him by his wife. If Mrs Lee, as principal beneficiary under that will had not predeceased him in 2010, would she have faced the same treatment and public humiliation as Lee Suet Fern has had to endure? Bear in mind that the Court of Three Judges found that Lee Suet Fern did not draft or amend Lee Kuan Yew's last will and Lee Suet Fern was not a beneficiary under his will. It would be interesting to know if Lee Suet Fern's prosecution was based solely on affidavits of an aggrieved brother-in-law, who just happened to be Prime Minister, with an Attorney General who was his former lawyer in tow?


Something else missing from the one-sided hatchet piece was that a disciplinary tribunal had found that Madam Kwa Kim Li failed to safeguard the late Mr Lee's confidentiality and had misled his children Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang in an email that she had nothing to do with Lee Kuan Yew's last will, when she had in fact acted for and advised Lee Kuan Yew. For her transgression she faced a paltry $13K fine.


The Channel News Asia article started off looking like nothing more than a politically motivated hatchet piece. And in my opinion, it has done nothing to enhance PAP's current standing, quite the opposite. It takes immense courage and integrity to stand up and do the right thing, and this latest vindictive blow wasn't the right thing to do! When is enough, enough?



Since I published this article the attacks in mainstream media against Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern persist.


Looking at the online reactions, it's not a case of citizens feeling 'quite saddened' like Senior Minister Teo. Many Singaporeans appear genuinely furious and disillusioned, seeing it as blatant political persecution. The fear resonates that if it can happen to Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern, it could potentially happen to any Singaporean who dares to raise their voice.


It appears that Singapore's ruling party and its press may have overlooked the principles of the 'Streisand Effect' and 'Let Sleeping Dogs Lie,' failing to consider the impact of the court of public opinion before opening up the Oxleygate wound!




"As things are, one can only wonder how much longer successful economic performance and a loutish political style can sleep together in the same bed. While one dreams of electronic paradises to come, the other enacts, in political nightmares, vengeful vendettas against foes real or imaginary, mostly the latter. Alas, both must perished in fatal embrace, on the same bed."

- C.V. Devan Nair (1923 - 2005)


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