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  • Writer's pictureJulie O'Connor

Voices from Diverse Backgrounds: Uncovering Conflicts of Interest in the Quest for Transparency and Justice

Lee Hsien Yang and I hail from vastly different backgrounds, and we have never met or communicated. He, the scion of Singapore's affluent Lee dynasty, and I, from what was one of the UK's most impoverished and roughest public housing estates. Yet, we both found ourselves ensnared raising concerns about an establishment that appeared so desperate to preserve its facade of purity, that it would discredit, sue and even bankrupt those who dared to lift up their head to criticize. We weren't alone; others who reached out to me recounted being threatened with professional ruin by those with connections to the power structure should they dare to speak out about allegations of fraud. One European victim's message resonates: "Their network's strength is almost diabolical; if you fight one, you fight them all." I wasn't sure at the time what he meant, I do now!

But such threats couldn't deter Lee Hsien Yang or me. While I suspect he possessed wealth of his own and could afford not to work again, I, despite lacking affluence, devoted my unpaid time to unveiling what I now believe is an institutional cover-up of the defrauding of my family and investor deception. Undoubtedly, Lee Hsien Yang and his family have paid a heavy price for bucking the trend as a prominent Singaporean with the rare courage to reveal uncomfortable truths.

Retribution Ensued

After Lee Hsien Yang alleged abuse of power and conflicts of interest in Singapore's upper echelons, it appeared that his wife and son became targets of state entities, and fearing for their safety, the family have since been forced into self-imposed exile. When I spoke up, parties falsely claimed my husband and son were convicted felons of the most heinous crimes, circulated doctored images of me, and fabricated allegations of my infidelity and death. I endured years of trolling. Then when the Editor of The Online Citizen shared the open letter, I had written to the Chief Justice addressing what I believed to be the persecution of Lee Hsien Yang’s family members, he was prosecuted for Contempt of Court. For nearly a decade, I've been advocating for transparency and justice, observing an establishment rife with conflicts of interest that seem reluctant to acknowledge the truth and offer apologies, fearing that it might expose their imperfections to the public eye.

The Ridout Scandal

Even in exile, Lee Hsien Yang retained his right as a citizen to raise concerns about the conflicts of interest surrounding the Ridout scandal. The facts were undeniable: two high-ranking Government Ministers from PAP had leased state-owned mansions from an agency overseen by one of them. Numerous trees were felled on the properties, whether NParks consented prior to the trees being felled might be one of those questions posed if there was ever a COI. Over $1 million in state funds was spent on renovations. Pertinent questions arose regarding the adequacy of the rents compared to market value and the lack of public disclosure of these rentals, prior to external exposure. Yet, for merely raising concerns, Lee Hsien Yang faced defamation lawsuits from both Ministers in Singapore, despite voicing his concerns from the UK.  It's evident why this saga continues to garner attention on social media, especially when Lee Hsien Yang is being silenced by the very politicians who held conflicting interests.

Don’t Silence Critics When Conflicts are Exposed

If those at the highest levels of Singaporean governance fail to acknowledge the necessity of independent investigations into conflicts of interest, and scandals like Ridout, what hope remains for transparency, truth, and accountability in Singapore?

Following the exposure of the Ridout scandal, an investigation was overseen by a close PAP colleague of the ministers embroiled in the scandal. An investigation was undertaken by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), whose director answers to the head of the same party to which the Ministers belong. It’s debatable whether the CPIB Director would jeopardize his own position by probing too deeply when you read the feedback from former Singapore President Devan Nair, about the persecution of those who raise their heads.

In my view, and that of others, the odds of Lee Hsien Yang being acquitted in a Singapore court were virtually non-existent. As highlighted by Freedom House in 2023, Singapore's judiciary appears to lack independence, with the country's top judges appointed by the president upon the prime minister's recommendation. The government's track record of prevailing in court cases, especially those with political implications, raises significant concerns about the judiciary's impartiality. This issue becomes particularly evident in defamation cases and lawsuits involving government critics. Suing critics is not the right tone to demonstrate a clean system and will not stop the online chatter and backroom whisperings about Ridout. If there is nothing to hide, the legal action taken against Lee Hsien Yang should be retracted and instead a public Committee of Inquiry instigated.

Recognizing Conflicts of Interest

In my case, I uncovered a series of alleged fraudulent activities implicating Lionel Lee (Lee), a client of the law firm formerly led by the Attorney General, who was a former client of the Second Minister of Law. This law firm was allegedly tasked in drafting the documents which along with two DBS letters, would become central to a conspiracy to defraud. The law firm later prepared a Settlement Deed aimed at halting legal proceedings against two subsidiaries of an SGX listed entity of which Lee was MD. Consequently, both the Attorney General and the Second Minister of Law would have significant conflicts of interest if Lee, his associates, and the transaction were to be investigated. It's also reasonable to assume that any subordinates of the Attorney General and Second Minister of Law, tasked with investigating Lee, would be keenly aware of these conflicts of interest. There is no suggestion that either the Attorney General or the Second Minister of Law did anything wrong, but there have been repeated refusals to investigate their former client and his associates. It is that which is not acceptable.

Upon receiving my submission, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) was either wilfully ignorant or unaware of the conflicts when it forwarded my submission to the Singapore Police, which indirectly or directly has connections to both the Attorney General's Chambers and the Ministry of Law. After an incredulous 18-month assessment of my submission, the Singapore Police were alleged to have made no contact with Lee's company or DBS, despite the serious concerns raised. Within a week of the Attorney General acknowledging his conflict in the matter, the Singapore Police asserted there was insufficient evidence to pursue an investigation.

Subsequently, upon contact by the Editor of Asian Sentinel and myself, the Prime Minister's Office, also seemingly failing to recognize the conflicts of interest, requested that the Singapore Police REVIEW their initial ASSESSMENT. Predictably, the outcome remained unchanged: insufficient evidence to warrant an INVESTIGATION.

Contrast to the Parti Liyani Investigation

Liew Mun Leong, formerly a board member of CapitaLand alongside the Attorney General, filed a police report accusing his former Indonesian maid, Parti Liyani, of theft from his residence. The alleged theft solely affected the Liew family and arguably lacked public interest. Remarkably, as I understand it, on the same day the police report was lodged against Parti, an Assistant Police Superintendent (ASP) initiated a police gazette to issue a warrant for her arrest. This occurred before the ASP had even visited the Liew residence, interviewed the Liews, or examined any evidence. Subsequently, it emerged that the evidence against Parti was both weak and false. However, she was prosecuted and sentenced to jail before her eventual acquittal on appeal.

The contrasting treatment in these cases is stark. Liew Mun Leong, a well-connected Chinese Singaporean male with ties to the Attorney General, accused Parti Liyani, a foreign woman, of theft and the response by the Singapore Police was swift. Conversely, in my case, I, a foreign woman, alleged fraud by a well-connected Chinese Singaporean male associated with the Attorney General’s former law firm. While an investigation should have been deemed in the public interest in 2016 prior to the group of companies headed by Lee collapsing, to date no investigation has been undertaken. Even worse, an IPO of a company involving some of the same parties is looming!

Discrediting/Gaslighting the Messengers 

Discrediting, gaslighting and the persecution of critics persists as a troubling trend, exemplified by the efforts to undermine Lee Hsien Yang and his family, even within the corridors of Parliament. This conduct is particularly troubling given that the Prime Minister, entangled in a family dispute with Lee Hsien Yang, also holds leadership within the majority party in Parliament.

Following Asian Sentinel's outreach to Government Linked bank DBS, Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), and the Prime Minister's Office in relation to my case, Wong Partnership were enlisted by the Board of DBS. Wong Partnership made a misleading public statement alleging malicious intent on my part, when these claims were contradicted by the fact that the DBS CEO had already been informed by a former Managing Director of another Singapore Government-Linked Company (GLC) about the compromised nature of the whistleblower investigation into our case. It's noteworthy that DBS Legal had expressly prohibited any mention of the two DBS letters, central to the conspiracy to defraud, in a whistleblower submission.

Moreover, the professional association between the Managing Partner of Wong Partnership and the Attorney General, both serving on the board of the banking regulator MAS, also raises serious concerns about another potential conflict of interest.

In light of these circumstances, it begs the question: have Lee Hsien Yang, myself, and others misjudged the various situations, or are conflicts of interest and the absence of an independent anti-corruption body fostering institutional cover-ups and the victimization of those who speak up? With the use of threats of prosecutions and jail under the Official Secrets Act, no whistleblower regulation, a pliant local press, and the high pay granted to senior civil servants, what incentive is there for anyone, including compliance staff, to spill the beans even if to save innocent individuals from being defrauded, discredited, persecuted or sued for defamation? I reached out to two DBS Group Heads of Financial Crime and two PwC Auditors in Charge of the DBS Audit, watching on as they would leave their roles. I now question if they would have dared to speak up even if they had uncovered any wrongdoing? As former Solicitor-General Francis Seow once wrote, “There are, regrettably, very few Singaporeans with that rare courage and intellectual, let alone political, honesty to call a spade a spade”.

If the PAP genuinely aims to uphold its commitments of zero tolerance for corruption, transparency, and accountability, then it should establish an independent system to build trust and ensure that even individuals in the highest echelons are subject to impartial scrutiny. Presently, the system seems tailored to conceal misconduct, empowering it to silence those who dare to raise their voices against it. This not only undermines the trust of Singaporeans but also raises concerns for international investors.

I persist in seeking an explanation as to why Lee and his associates were permitted to commit fraud against my family, deceive investors, and escape accountability, benefiting from Lee's influential connections. Meanwhile, individuals like Parti Liyani and others face the full force of the law. If Singapore's legal system is predicated not on actions but on affiliations or the individuals you challenge, then it lacks equity and warrants condemnation, and any propaganda statements from those in the highest echelons asserting otherwise should be called out.

I've forwarded a copy of this article to the Prime Minister, in the expectation that it might inspire him to set a precedent by openly acknowledging mistakes and extending apologies, instead of resorting to repetitive rhetoric devoid of accountability after each scandal. It's evident to anyone discerning that Lee Hsien Yang wasn't engaging in defamation against the Ministers; rather, he was exemplifying the importance of citizens being able to voice their concerns freely and express dissent when necessary.

Prime Minister Lee has recently stated "For the good of our country, we will carry through what needs to be done in accordance with the law, even if it may be politically embarrassing and painful to the party.” But as the old adage goes 'actions speak louder than words', so we eagerly await tangible results before believing! If there is genuine acknowledgment of errors or misjudgments, accompanied by a sincere apology, it can be a constructive step towards reconciliation and moving forward positively. Perhaps start with 'Lee Hsien Yang did not defame the Ministers, and we are sorry' or is that a step too far!


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