John Harding’s book, Escape from Paradise – Paperback and Kindle Versions


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Now, available in Kindle and Paperback! Free Kindle if you purchase Paperback. After buying Paperback, go for the free Kindle!

It took me two and a half evenings to complete your un-put-downable book…it is a unique contribution to the appreciation of a life in Singapore. Thank you for having written it. C. V. Devan Nair, former President of Singapore.

Bought the book from Select this weekend and can’t put it down! It’s a great read! And so nostalgic for me—the good old days! Glen Goei, writer and director of the Miramax film That’s the Way I Like It and who played the title role opposite Anthony Hopkins in the London production of M. Butterfly. Mr. Goei’s latest film is The Blue Mansion – Click for the trailer!

It is a remarkable story and so full of intrigue that it reads at times like fiction.Jonathan Burnham, Editor in Chief & President, Talk Miramax Books.

“It’s quite a story The legendary Alice Mayhew, Vice-President & Editorial Director, Simon & Schuster.

This book out-Dallas, Dallas. No one has written so well of the other side of paradise,Francis T. Seow, former Solicitor General of Singapore

ThunderBall Films is successfully putting together the movie production of Escape from Paradise and has received a new LOI (Letter of Intent) from actress Bai Ling who starred with Richard Gere in the film Red Cross.

This includes a commitment from a CPA firm who does tax credit financing in Ireland, a possible location to film, as part of the package needed for investors – along with the CPA firm’s commitment to apply for and finance the tax credits if ThunderBall does shoot in Ireland and what portion of the budget they would provide.
For inquiries, please contact John Harding at jbharding@gmail.com.

Escape from Paradise – the Promotional Trailer

Singapore’s 1st Family’s Ugly Fight

Singapore is a wonderful country, but, economically, not quite what it used to be. Singapore’s growth rate is expected to grow between 1 and 3% for 2017, with growth likely to come in higher than 2% “barring the materialization of downside risks”, cautions Singapore’s Ministry of Trade and Industry. This is an improvement over Singapore’s 2016 growth rate of only 1.7%. However, even at 2%, Singapore has fallen far short of its economic growth of the past. Under Goh Chok Tong, the Prime Minister of Singapore from 1990 to 2004, Singapore experienced high growth rates. Growth was 7 to 8 percent until the mid 1990s.

Lee Hsien Yang, Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Wei Ling

Lee Hsien Yang, Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Wei Ling

Now, with a “mature” growth rate in the area of 2% similar to the United States, Singapore is facing a major problem with a battle raging in its ruling family—the Lees. This battle pitches current Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong against his brother, Lee Hsien Yang and sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling. These are the three offspring of Singapore’s founder, Lee Kuan Yew, who died on March 23, 2015.

LKY House 38 Oxley

LKY House 38 Oxley Road

In his last will, Lee Kuan Yew, declared that he wanted the family bungalow demolished after his death, but his three children have fallen out regarding this instruction. Lee Hsien Loong has expressed “grave concerns about the events surrounding the making of the Last Will”, and favors preserving the house. His siblings want the home demolished, and have accused the prime minister of seeking to use the home as a monument to enhance his political capital.

Lee Hsien Yang, the younger brother of Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has revealed he is “being forced to leave the country” amid a dispute over the future of the family home of late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at 38 Oxley Road.

“I am looking to move on and wake up from what feels almost like an Orwellian nightmare. The cabinet has just put out a note and talked about some of the things. What is the cabinet committee doing on 38 Oxley Road notwithstanding our settlement with Loong? Why is there even a Cabinet committee when PM Lee (Hsien Loong) had announced in Parliament that so long as (Hsien Yang’s younger sister) Wei Ling is living there, nothing needs to be done? Why when the Government says the government of the day will decide when Lee Wei Ling is no longer (living there) … is the Government of today convening this Cabinet committee?”

This is a most embarrassing incident for a nation that has come so far.

On 14 June 2017 Lee Wei Ling, Lee Hsien Loong’s sister, responded on Facebook to the general public.

“I am out of Singapore, with erratic and slow internet connection. The article that appeared in the Singapore press gave PM’s version of the story. Our letter was carefully vetted by our lawyers and obviously not in my own voice.
My American friend who is the tour leader of my Scottish island holiday thought it a family quarrel. If it were merely a family affair, we would not have taken it public. The main message is not Hsien Yang & I fearing what PM will do to us. The most important point I want to put across is if PM can misuse his official power to abuse his siblings who can fight back, what else can he do to ordinary citizens. But our lawyer edited that main message out, and as Hsien Yang got most of the bullying, he could not help but allow his emotion to be expressed in the press statement. That is what led my American friend to conclude that it is a family quarrel.
38 Oxley Road was bought by my parents, it is for them to decide what its fate is. My Father (Lee Kuan Yew) had told us, his children, repeatedly, that being family property, there is no need to donate to charity if Oxley were sold. Hsien Loong, as a condition for selling the house to Hsien Yang, and in his attempt to punish Hsien Yang for blocking what he wants to do with the house, stipulated that in addition to paying Hsien Loong the market value of the house, he must also donate 50% of that value to charity.
Hsien Loong and Ho Ching are finally showing their true colours. I think these Colours show them unsuitable as PM and most certainly as PM’s wife of Singapore.”

PM Lee’s Statutory Declaration Regarding the Property

1. Mr Lee Kuan Yew (“Mr Lee”) made six wills before his last will of 17 December 2013 (the “Last Will”). All the wills, save for the Last Will, were prepared by Ms Kwa Kim Li (“KKL”).

2. I learnt about the contents of the Last Will only on 12 April 2015, when the Last Will was read to the family. I saw copies of the six wills preceding the Last Will only in June 2015, when KKL provided the family with the same. Only then was I able to review and compare the terms and changes between those wills and the Last Will.

3. The Demolition Clause first appeared in Mr Lee’s first will made on 20 August 2011 (the “First Will”).

4. Mr Lee gave instructions to remove the Demolition Clause, and it was removed, from the penultimate two wills (the “Fifth Will” and “Sixth Will”). However, it somehow found its way back into the Last Will.

5. The Demolition Clause in the Last Will is now being used by Dr Lee Wei Ling (“LWL”) and Mr Lee Hsien Yang (“LHY”) to claim that Mr Lee was firm in his wish that the house at 38 Oxley Road (the “House”) be demolished, and that he was not prepared to accept its preservation or contemplate options short of demolition. There is no basis for these claims, not least because of the deeply troubling circumstances concerning the making of the Last Will.

6. In setting out these circumstances, I will refer only to objective facts and contemporaneous documents, some of which I learnt of only later.

7. Under the First Will, Mr Lee gave each child an equal share of his estate (the “Estate”). However, under the Sixth Will made on 2 November 2012, Mr Lee gave LWL an extra share (relative to LHY and me), and he told LWL about this.

8. As I only later learnt, this issue became the subject of discussion between LHY and Mr Lee in late 2013 and on 16 December 2013 at 7.08 pm, LHY’s wife, Mrs Lee Suet Fern (“LSF”) sent an email to Mr Lee, copied to LHY and KKL (“LSF’s Email”), stating:

“Dear Pa Pa,

This was the original agreed Will which ensures that all 3 children receive equal shares, taking into account the relative valuations (as at the date of demise) of the properties each receives.

Kim Li
Grateful if you could please engross.”

LSF appeared to have attached a file named to that email.

9. It would appear from that email that those discussions resulted in Mr Lee deciding to revert to his earlier decision to give each child an equal share in the Estate.

10. A mere 23 minutes after this email was sent, at 7.31 pm, LHY replied to LSF’s Email removing KKL as an addressee and adding Ms Wong Lin Hoe (“WLH”), who was Mr Lee’s Private Secretary, in the “cc” field. In that email, LHY told Mr Lee:

“Pa
I couldn’t get in touch with Kim Li.
I believe she is away.
I don’t think it is wise to wait till she is back.
I think all you need is a witness to sign the will.
Fern can get one of her partners to come round with an engrossed copy of the will to execute and witness.
They can coordinate it with Lin Hoe for a convenient time.”

11. KKL had prepared all of Mr Lee’s previous wills. It is unclear what efforts LHY or LSF had made to get in touch with KKL when LHY told Mr Lee on 16 December 2013 that he could not get in touch with KKL and that it was not wise to wait till KKL got back to change his will. In fact, KKL subsequently told LSF (the following afternoon, when she learnt what had happened) that she did not seem to have received LSF’s Email. It is also not clear why LHY thought that there was an urgency to the matter. It is however interesting that he suggested that his wife, clearly an interested party, and her partners would prepare the new will.

12. At 8.12 pm, before any response from Mr Lee, LSF sent an email to WLH, copied to LHY and her fellow lawyer from her law firm (Stamford Law Corporation as it then was; now Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC), one Mr Bernard Lui (“BL”), to inform WLH that BL had the will ready for execution and that WLH could reach BL directly to make arrangements for the signing of the will. So, in the space of 41 minutes, LSF saw to the preparation of the new will and got one of her lawyers to be on standby to get it executed by Mr Lee.

13. Mr Lee replied to LHY’s email at 9.42 pm. In view of LHY’s representation that he could not contact KKL, and of the urgency of the matter, Mr Lee acquiesced to LHY’s suggestion not to wait for KKL and agreed with LHY’s suggestion to sign the new will.

14. The very next morning, LSF sent two lawyers from Stamford Law Corporation to be at 38 Oxley Road to procure Mr Lee’s signature on the Last Will. The two lawyers, BL and one Ms Elizabeth Kong (“EK”), arrived at 38 Oxley Road at 11.05 am on 17 December 2013. They left at 11.20 am. They were present at 38 Oxley Road for 15 minutes only, including the time for logging into and out from the property. The time taken to execute the Last Will would have been even less. They plainly came only to witness Mr Lee signing the Last Will and not to advise him.

15. In the afternoon of 17 December 2013, WLH sent an email to Mr Lee stating “We have received a faxed copy of the signed document for Mr Lee to re-read in the office”. This email was curious because WLH was not present when Mr Lee signed the Last Will and could not have known whether he had read it in the first place. WLH sent this email after receiving a fax copy of the signed will. There is nothing to suggest that Mr Lee had asked WLH to get a copy for him to “re-read” in the office. Also, it is not credible that she would know that that was the reason the fax had been sent to her, unless the sender or the fax itself stated so.

16. LHY and LSF did not copy LWL or me on this email correspondence with Mr Lee on 16 and 17 December 2013 regarding the making and signing of the Last Will. I became aware of these troubling circumstances only later, as I explain below.

17. In the meantime, LWL began to harbour grave suspicions about the change in the shares in the Last Will. In July 2014, she told Ms Ho Ching (“HC”) in emails that Mr Lee had told her (LWL) a couple of years ago that he had left her an extra share of the Estate. This fits the timeframe of 2 November 2012 when the Sixth Will giving LWL an extra share was made. LWL also told HC that many months after that, LHY told her that Mr Lee wanted to go back to giving the children equal shares. LWL also told HC (among other things) that the will (meaning the Last Will) reinstating equal shares of the Estate for the three children had been witnessed by notaries from LSF’s office. Crucially, she said “If that is what Pa wants, so be it. But I don’t trust Fern, n she has great influence on Yang”, that “Later, Fern sent a “sweet” email to kim li about what had been done”, and that KKL and LWL had “wondered whether Yang pulled a fast one”. She also said: “If it is Pa’s decision, I am ok with it. But I hv a sense that Yang played me out”; “I was very upset that Yang did it to me”; and “I would hv preferred that it was 3 equal lots all along without needing to suspect Yang and Fern. The money I don’t get does not upset me. It is that yang and fern would do this to me”.

18. In other words, LWL herself believed that LHY and LSF did her in by either suggesting or facilitating the removal of her extra share, which happened in the Last Will prepared in great haste by LSF and her law firm. In a letter from their lawyers to mine sent after disputes arose between LWL and LHY on the one hand, and me on the other, LWL admitted that she had been suspicious as to whether the change in shares was really Mr Lee’s decision or one that was instigated by LHY and LSF but claimed that she no longer held this suspicion. But she did not explain how or why her suspicions had now come to be so conveniently dispelled.

19. In any event, as is clear from its contents, LSF’s Email distinctly and clearly gave Mr Lee the impression that the new will would change only the division of shares, with the result that each child would have an equal share, just like in the First Will. Yet, the Last Will that LSF and her law firm prepared and got Mr Lee to sign went beyond that. Significantly, they re-inserted the Demolition Clause, even though that clause does not appear to have been discussed at the time of the making of the Last Will and had in fact been removed by Mr Lee from his immediately prior two wills (the Fifth and Sixth Wills).

20. Neither was the Last Will a wholesale reversion to the First Will. The Last Will differed in significant respects from the First Will. For example, the First Will contained a gift-over clause with thorough provisions for the scenarios where LWL, LHY or I predeceased Mr Lee. This important clause was absent from the Last Will, and there is nothing which suggests that Mr Lee had given instructions for it to be removed.

21. In fact, if, as appears from LSF’s Email, the change Mr Lee had wanted to make to his will in December 2013 was to reinstate the equal division of the Estate among the three children, that could have been easily done by reverting to the Fifth Will (which provided for equal division). The Fifth Will was as complete as the Sixth Will and similar in all material respects to the Sixth Will save for the proportions of the Estate bequeathed to each of the three children. Further, as KKL had prepared the Fifth and Sixth Wills, she could easily have been asked to make that one change.

22. On 12 April 2015, Mr Lee’s Last Will was read. Mr Lee’s three children, HC and LSF were present at the reading. Also present were two lawyers from LSF’s law firm, Mr Ng Joo Khin (“NJK”) and BL (who was a witness to signing of the Last Will). At that reading, LSF volunteered that Mr Lee had asked her to prepare the Last Will, but that she had not wanted to get personally involved and had therefore gotten NJK from her law firm to handle the preparation of the Last Will. BL then confirmed that he was one of the witnesses to the Last Will. I could not help but form the impression that this was all rehearsed, and wondered why these statements were made even when no questions had been raised about the validity of the Last Will. BL then went on, in our presence, to examine the seals and signatures on the envelope, opened the envelope, examined the initials and signatures on every page, and pronounced that this was the document that he had witnessed before handing it to NJK. NJK did not dispute LSF’s account that he had handled the preparation of the Last Will. He then went on to read the Last Will to Mr Lee’s family, word for word, including the page and paragraph numbers.

23. I was so struck by the sequence of volunteered statements that on 23 April 2015, 11 days later, I recounted to DPM Teo Chee Hean in my office what had happened at the reading of the Last Will, including what LSF had said.

24. It was also during the reading of the Last Will on 12 April 2015 that the dispute between LHY and me arose. At the reading, LHY repeatedly insisted on the immediate demolition of the House. I said that such a move so soon after Mr Lee’s passing, when the public’s emotions were still raw, might force the Government to promptly react by deciding to gazette the House, and that would not be in the interests of Mr Lee’s legacy or Singapore. That discussion only ended when HC intervened to ask LWL if she wanted to continue living in the House. LWL said she did, which made the question of demolition moot. LHY then stopped insisting on the immediate demolition of the House.

25. Far from making any threats or opposing making Mr Lee’s wishes public, I also proposed reading out in Parliament Mr Lee’s letter to Cabinet of 27 December 2011, as well as the Demolition Clause. LHY and LSF strenuously objected. They argued that I could not read out Mr Lee’s letter, because (they claimed) of the Official Secrets Act. When I held firm, they told me that I could only read the first half of the Demolition Clause, i.e. excluding that part about what Mr Lee wanted done to the House if it is not demolished. I made clear that I intended to make public both Mr Lee’s letter of 27 December 2011 and the entire Demolition Clause, which I did when I spoke in Parliament on 13 April 2015. I also told Parliament that the Government would only consider the question of what to do with the House as and when LWL ceased to live in it.

26. It was only after the reading of the Last Will and the dispute arose that I looked up old family emails.

27. I then learnt that on 3 January 2014 at 10.30 am, WLH had sent an email (“WLH’s Email”) to LSF, copied to Mr Lee, LHY, LWL, HC, KKL and me, attaching a copy of Mr Lee’s codicil. The codicil had nothing to do with the contents of the Last Will but dealt with the bequest of some carpets. Buried in the email chain to WLH’s Email were LSF’s and LHY’s emails of 16 and 17 December 2013. Back in January 2014, I had not considered it necessary to read the entire email chain and did not do so. I did not feel that there was any need, and I was not anxious, to acquaint myself with my father’s wills. I felt that those were matters for him, and I left it at that. This is evident from my query to LHY on 13 May 2015 about a codicil to the Last Will whose existence I was not aware of. LHY replied that I had been copied on WLH’s Email in January 2014 about the codicil.I had not earlier paid any attention to that and could not locate WLH’s Email at that point. I therefore asked LHY for a copy.

28. When LHY in response forwarded me a copy of WLH’s Email containing the codicil, he cut out and did not send me the incriminating exchanges in the email chain that followed which showed LHY’s and LSF’s involvement in the making of the Last Will in December 2013. Thus LHY and LSF themselves appear to have believed that I had not paid attention to these matters, nor fully appreciated the import of the 16 and 17 December 2013 emails.

29. In any event, even had I read the 16 and 17 December 2013 emails at the time, I would not have appreciated their significance because I would have been reading them without the full context, since I was not aware (until June 2015, when informed by KKL) of the terms of earlier wills, nor the terms of or changes in the Last Will.

30. When I subsequently reviewed the 16 and 17 December 2013 emails, there was nothing to show that NJK had been involved in the preparation of the Last Will as LSF had claimed during the reading of the Last Will on 12 April 2015. I am also not aware of anything which shows that NJK had met or communicated with Mr Lee on the Last Will. I therefore do not understand how Mr Lee could have given instructions to NJK on the preparation of the Last Will.

31. In June 2015, KKL provided the family with copies of Mr Lee’s First to Sixth Wills and explanations for why he had executed those wills. Only then was I able to review and compare the terms and changes between those wills and the Last Will, and appreciate the significance of the exchanges in the 16 and 17 December 2013 emails.

32. At the end of August 2015, because of the ongoing dispute, HC did a search of her old emails and found the correspondence between her and LWL in July 2014 where LWL expressed her suspicions about LHY and LSF’s role in the making of the Last Will.

33. This series of events led me to be very troubled by the circumstances surrounding the Last Will.

34. Even then, I was prepared not to delve further into those circumstances if the disputes within the family could be resolved amicably and privately. I did not challenge the validity of the Last Will in court because I wished, to the extent possible, to avoid a public fight which would tarnish the name and reputation of Mr Lee and the family. I was also and am still concerned that LWL and LHY want(ed) to drag out probate and the administration and winding up of the Estate so that they can use their position as Executors for reasons which are strictly unconnected with the administration of the Estate.

35. As part of efforts to resolve the family disputes amicably, after LWL and LHY expressed unhappiness that 38 Oxley Road had been bequeathed to me following Mr Lee’s passing, I told them that I was prepared to transfer 38 Oxley Road to LWL for a nominal sum of S$1 on the condition that should the property be transacted later or acquired by the Government, all proceeds would go to charity. However, a resolution proved impossible. Matters reached the point where LWL and LHY threatened to escalate their attacks against me, coinciding with the September 2015 General Elections. I was not prepared to be intimidated. Their accusations were not only baseless; they were based on the premise that there were no unusual circumstances surrounding the making of the Last Will. I therefore decided to make further enquiries into those circumstances through my solicitors in September 2015, but, contrary to what my siblings have claimed, my questions (which are included in those which I set out below) went unanswered.

36. After the General Elections, LWL and LHY agreed to my fresh proposal to transfer 38 Oxley Road to LHY at market value, on condition that LHY and I each donated an amount equivalent to half of that value to charity, to pre-empt any future controversy over compensation or redevelopment proceeds. I was prepared to transfer 38 Oxley Road to LHY so that he and LWL could handle the 38 Oxley Road matter as they saw fit between them. In accordance with our agreement, I donated half of the value of 38 Oxley Road to charity. Although not required under the agreement, I also donated a sum equivalent to the other half of the value of 38 Oxley Road to charity. 38 Oxley Road now wholly belongs to LHY. This is consistent with the position that I had always held and conveyed to my family: that it is not tenable for the family to retain proceeds from any dealing with 38 Oxley Road, as it would look like the family is opposing acquisition and preservation of the House for monetary reasons. LHY was and continues to be unhappy about my taking this position. So, it would appear, is LWL.

37. I continue to have grave concerns about the events surrounding the making of the Last Will. I am not aware of any facts which suggest that Mr Lee was informed or advised (by NJK, whom LSF claimed had handled the preparation of the Last Will, or any other lawyer) about all the changes that were made when he signed the Last Will, or that Mr Lee was properly advised about the contents of the Last Will. In fact, there is no evidence that Mr Lee even knew that the Demolition Clause had been re-inserted into the Last Will.

38. My concerns are heightened by what appears to be a conflict of interest: LSF was involved in the preparation and/or signing of the Last Will, while her husband, LHY, was a beneficiary under the Last Will and stood to gain by the removal of LWL’s extra share in the Estate under the Last Will. It would appear that LHY felt very strongly about LWL not receiving an extra share, which explains why, in April 2015, he told me that there “would have been big trouble” if Mr Lee had not changed the will back to equal shares between the three children.

39. These facts and matters give rise to the following serious questions:
(1) Why did LSF say, at the reading of the Last Will on 12 April 2015, that she had not wanted to be involved in the preparation of the Last Will and that she had asked NJK to handle the matter, when she had been intimately involved in the events surrounding and leading up to the Last Will?
(2) What was LSF’s role in the preparation and signing of the Last Will?
(3) What, if any, knowledge did LHY and LSF have of the First to Sixth Wills?
(4) Whether and to what extent were the earlier wills discussed with Mr Lee in the lead-up to the signing of the Last Will and when the Last Will was signed, and who had those discussions?
(5) Were the provisions of the Last Will explained to Mr Lee, and if so, who explained them to him?
(6) Who gave instructions to NJK in relation to the Last Will, and what were those instructions? Did NJK, who is said by LSF to have prepared the Last Will, ever meet or speak to Mr Lee to take instructions or to get the Last Will signed?
(7) Did Mr Lee give specific instructions to re-insert the Demolition Clause in the Last Will, and if so, to whom?
(8) Was there a conflict of interest on the part of LSF, her fellow lawyers and her firm?
(9) What transpired during the brief time that BL and EK were with Mr Lee? Did LSF tell BL and EK to ensure that Mr Lee received independent legal advice before asking him to sign the Last Will?

40. Without proper and complete answers to these questions, the serious doubts about whether Mr Lee was properly and independently advised on the contents of the Last Will before he signed it cannot be cleared.

41. LWL and LHY claim that Mr Lee was not prepared to consider any option other than the demolition of the House. For that they rely heavily on the insertion of the Demolition Clause in the Last Will. In light of the troubling circumstances set out above, 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.

Lee Hsien Loong’s Statement to the Singapore Parliament

PM Lee Hsien Loong in Parliament on July 3, 2017, where he gave his ministerial statement on the alleged abuse of power on 38 Oxley Road

PM Lee Hsien Loong in Parliament on July 3, 2017, where he gave his ministerial statement on the alleged abuse of power on 38 Oxley Road

“Mdm Speaker, I am making this statement today because my siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, have made serious allegations of abuse of power against me and my Government.

The allegations seem to concern primarily three matters. One, the setting up of the Ministerial Committee on 38 Oxley Road. Two, the Deed of Gift for some artefacts from the house that were to be displayed in an exhibition by the National Heritage Board (NHB). And three, accusations of nepotism over my wife and son, and accusations that I want my father’s house kept standing to bolster my power.

Their allegations are entirely baseless. But they have already damaged Singapore’s reputation. Unrebutted, they can affect Singaporeans’ confidence in the Government. I therefore have no choice but to address them promptly and publicly. I also have to do so in Parliament. Under the Constitution, the Prime Minister is the person who commands the confidence of the majority of the Members of Parliament. As the PM, I have a duty to explain myself to MPs, and to rebut in Parliament the allegations against me and my Government.

I know many Singaporeans are upset by this issue. They are tired of the subject, and wish it would end. I too am upset that things have reached this state. As your Prime Minister, I deeply regret that this has happened and apologise to Singaporeans for this. As a son, I am pained at the anguish that this strife would have caused my parents to feel if they were still alive.

I intend to clear the air today, to explain the matter fully and to answer all questions on the matter. I am not here to make a case against my siblings. Parliament is not the place for that. But what is private, I will try to resolve privately. But what is public, I have to explain and render account.

I stand by what I will say in this Chamber. I shall be separately issuing whatever I say in this debate as a statement by me outside the House which will not be covered by Parliamentary privilege.

To respond to these allegations of abuse of power, I will have to go into some background about 38 Oxley Road and the family discussions on the house so that Members can make sense of the allegations.

My account will inevitably be from my perspective. So I will try my best to be objective and factual.

I will cover the discussions on 38 Oxley Road when Mr Lee Kuan Yew was alive, what happened after Mr Lee passed away, and then, where the matter stands today.

38 OXLEY ROAD

Mdm Speaker, may I now ask the Clerk to distribute Handout 1 to Members.

My father’s wish, held for many years, is well-known to all Singaporeans. He wanted the house at 38 Oxley Road to be demolished. After my mother died in 2010, my father wrote to Cabinet to put his position on the record. This is the first note you have in the bundle, which is dated, 27 October 2010. It is a letter from Mr Lee to Cabinet. And it reads,

“38 Oxley Road. I have discussed this with my family many a time. They agreed with me that 38 Oxley Road should not be kept as a kind of relic for people to tramp through. Take photos of it or whatever else they want, but demolish it after I am gone.

“I have seen too many places which are kept frozen in time. My most vivid memory is that of Nehru’s final home, that of the British Commander of the Indian Ocean fleet in New Delhi.” (Actually it was another British General’s home, but you get the point.)

“It was once a grand building. Kept as a monument with people tramping in and out, it became shabby. It is not worth the restoration, unless they restore it just for people to look at.

“38 Oxley Road has no merit as architecture. So please respect my wish to have it demolished when I am no longer around.”

Cabinet noted his letter. A few months later, in January 2011, my father published a book, “Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going”. In the book, the question of preserving his house came up. He said “I’ve told the Cabinet, when I’m dead, demolish it”. He explained again that he did not want the house to become a shambles. The cost of preservation would be high because the house was built over a hundred years ago and had no foundation. If the house was demolished and planning rules could change, the value of the land, as well as the surrounding plots, would go up.

However, after “Hard Truths” was published, there was a strong public pushback. Many Singaporeans did not agree with Mr Lee. They wanted the house to be preserved. This was after all the house of Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, where important political decisions were made that shaped the future of Singapore. We are a young nation, and what the house represents is of particular significance to our history and nationhood. So in March 2011, my father asked some newspaper editors for their views. All the editors replied that they would like it to be kept, given its historical importance and heritage value.

Mohd Guntor Sadali, then editor of Berita Harian, wrote to my father:

“I was personally shocked and sad, when I first read about you saying that you wanted the house demolished after you are gone.

“the historical value of the house is priceless…if we demolish it, our next generations will regret it. We should avoid making this mistake.”

Mr Lim Jim Koon, then editor of Lianhe Zaobao, suggested that the house be conserved and turned into a museum, like the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Hall. These were not the answers my father hoped to get. My father then wanted to leave the decision to his children. But we told him that only he could decide. He then said his decision was to knock it down. I told him that in that case he should tell the editors, and put it on the record. And so he did.

After the General Election in May 2011, Mr Lee retired from Cabinet. He then decided to put his views on the record again. And that is the second bundle in the letter you have, 20 July 2011, he wrote to Cabinet to reiterate that he wanted the house knocked down. I read, it says,

“I have previously written to Cabinet that the house should be demolished. It has no foundations and it is in poor condition. It is difficult to maintain when people start trampling through the house. Whenever there is piling at Kiliney Road, hairline cracks begin to appear in the walls. So keeping the house is too hazardous and costly. I therefore repeat my wish to have the house demolished when I’m no longer alive.

This is a letter that I referred to when I addressed the Parliament on the 13 April 2015. I said he expressed his wish that the house be torn down. But I misquote, I said December 2011. In fact he wrote this 20 July 2011.

When I saw this letter the next morning, that means 21 July 2011, I immediately invited Mr Lee to make his case in person to Cabinet. I thought that with his force of personality and conviction, meeting the Ministers would give him the best chance to convince Cabinet, as he had done so many times before. My father agreed to come. He met Cabinet that very afternoon. But the Ministers were unanimous in expressing their opposition to knocking the house down. I was the only one who did not express a view, because I was both the son and the PM and therefore conflicted.

After the meeting, my father continued to ponder over how to deal with the house. In fact, even before the Cabinet meeting, He had been discussing with the family how to go about demolishing the house and redeveloping the site. We explored in the family all kinds of permutations to demolish the house and redevelop the site – maximise value. We discussed who to inherit the property, whether it should be one or several of the children; whether to demolish the house before or after my father died; whether to donate the proceeds to charity after the site was redeveloped, and if so which children would share in the donation, and which charities to donate to.

At one point, my brother suggested that my father gift the property to Singapore, subject to the condition that the house be demolished and a small public park be built in its place. I said that I thought this was worth considering, but I offered another option: to demolish the house and redevelop the site as my father wanted, but then to sell off the property and donate the proceeds to charity

I asked my father between the two which he preferred, and he replied the latter, i.e. demolish the house, redevelop and sell off, and donate the proceeds to charity. He even had some ideas which charities he wanted. He was a practical-minded man

In August 2011, about a month after the Cabinet meeting, my father decided to will 38 Oxley Road to me as part of my share of the estate, and he told the family so.

Ho Ching and I knew my father’s wishes and also my mother’s feelings. We also knew how Cabinet and the public viewed the matter. We started discussing alternatives with my father, to see how best we could fulfil his wishes, in the event that the house could not be demolished. My father’s concern was that the house should not become run-down and dilapidated, and that it should not be an expensive burden to maintain

My late mother had a different concern: privacy. She felt strongly that her private living spaces should always remain private. She had been most distressed at the thought of people tramping through her personal spaces after she and my father passed away, to gawk at how they had lived. Even when not so familiar people came into the house for one reason or another to meet her or my father. She would complain afterwards “you could see them looking around, eyes opened, to try and find out how we lived”. She resented it.

So Ho Ching and I came up with a proposal to renovate the house to change the inside completely: Demolish the private living spaces to preserve the privacy of the family; keep the basement dining room, which was of historical significance; strengthen the structure which was decaying, and create a new and separate living area, so that the house could be lived in.

My father accepted this proposal. In December 2011, he told the family that it was “best to redevelop 38 Oxley Road straightaway”, after he died, and do what we proposed. By redevelopment, he means remove the private spaces, renovate the house without knocking it down. At around the same time, on 27 December 2011, he wrote to Cabinet a third time and you have the letter with you.

“Cabinet members were unanimous that 38 Oxley Road should not be demolished as I wanted. I have reflected on this and decided that if 38 Oxley Road is to be preserved, it needs to have its foundations reinforced and the whole building refurbished. It must then be let out for people to live in. An empty building will soon decline and decay.”

Ho Ching and I therefore proceeded along these lines. We kept the family fully informed of our considerations and our intentions. We emailed everyone, including my father, my sister, my brother and his wife. No one raised any objections to the plan

My father met the architect, went through the proposal, and approved the scheme to reinforce the foundations and renovate the house. Madam Speaker, may I now ask the Clerk to distribute Handout 2, which contains the relevant correspondence. My father signed the authorisation to submit the development application to URA on 28 March 2012, which URA approved on 17 April 2012.

As far as I knew, that was how the family had settled the matter – rationally, amicably while Mr Lee was still alive, which was what he had hoped to achieve and strived very hard to achieve. I heard nothing to the contrary until after my father died

AFTER MR LEE’S PASSING

My father passed away on 23 March 2015. On 12 April 2015, three weeks later, his last will was formally read to me and my two siblings. 38 Oxley Road was given to me. The Demolition Clause was in the will.

Mdm Speaker, may I now ask the Clerk to distribute Handout 3 which is the Demolition Clause to Members. The Demolition Clause was in two main parts with a third minor part at the end. I read it out in full:

“I further declare that it is my wish and the wish of my late Wife, KWA GEOK CHOO, that our house at 38 Oxley Road, Singapore 238629 (“The House”) be demolished immediately after my death, or if my daughter Wei Ling, would prefer to continue living in the original house, immediately after she moves out of the House. I would ask each of my children to ensure our wishes with respect to the demolition of the House be carried out. If our children are unable to demolish the House as a result of any changes in the laws, rules or regulations binding them, it is my wish that the House never be opened to others except my children, their families and descendants. My view on this has been made public before and remains unchanged. My statement of wishes in this paragraph 7 may be publicly disclosed notwithstanding that the rest of my Will is private.”

The following day, I had to speak in Parliament on how we would honour Mr Lee Kuan Yew. The question of 38 Oxley Road was bound to come up. There were already suggestions from the public on what to do with the house, including turning it into a museum and a memorial. I was personally in a difficult position, because I was both Mr Lee’s son and the Prime Minister

So at the reading of the will, I discussed with my siblings what I could say about the house in Parliament. There was a difference of views. Hsien Yang for the first time objected to the renovation plans that my father had approved. He wanted the house to be knocked down immediately, which was a complete surprise to me. I pointed out that his position now was different from what the family had discussed and agreed upon. But it was not possible to knock down the House immediately, anyway, because my sister, Wei Ling, then said she intended to continue to stay in the house and in his will, my father had expressed his wish that Wei Ling be allowed to stay there for as long as she wished.

So I said we should honour that, and that I would say in Parliament the next day that the Government would not make any decision, until such time as my sister was no longer staying there. We also discussed what I should say regarding my father’s wishes – what is should say in parliament regarding my father’s wishes. I wanted to read out Mr Lee’s 27 December 2011 letter to Cabinet, stating his view on what to do with the house if it is to be preserved. I also wanted to read out the Demolition Clause in his will, in full. My brother and his wife objected strenuously. But I decided that I had to do so, and I said so, so that my father’s views would be on record and Singaporeans could know accurately what his thinking had been. Later that evening, I discovered that my siblings had issued a statement which contained the full Demolition Clause.

In Parliament the next day, I made a statement which I had cleared with my key Cabinet colleagues because I was speaking as Prime Minister. I read out both the letter to Cabinet and the whole Demolition Clause. I said that “we should not rush into making decisions on this matter, especially so soon after Mr Lee has passed away. We should allow some time to pass, consider the ideas carefully, and make calm, considered decisions which will stand the test of time. We want to honour Mr Lee, but we must do so in the right way.” I stated that my father’s position on 38 Oxley Road had been unwavering all these years, that he wanted the house knocked down, and that as a son I wanted to see my father’s wishes carried out. I told Parliament that since my sister was going to continue living in 38 Oxley Road, there was no immediate issue of demolition and no need for Government to make any decision now. As and when my sister was no longer living there, the Government of the day would consider the matter.

After the Parliament Sitting, I took two major steps. One, I recused myself from all Government decisions relating to 38 Oxley Road. I was conflicted, being my father’s son and the inheritor of the house, and also the Head of the Government. It was not proper for me to take part in any decisions on 38 Oxley Road. So at the next Cabinet meeting, two days after the Parliament Sitting, I recused myself from all discussions and decisions relating to the house, and placed DPM Teo Chee Hean in charge and this was formally recorded in the cabinet minutes. From that point on, I have been out of the loop whenever the Government handles matters concerning the house. I play no part in any of the discussions or decisions. Whenever the Cabinet deliberates on the house, for example when it set up a Ministerial Committee, I absent myself, and DPM Teo chairs the meeting

My second major action after my father died was to divest myself of the house. Soon after the Parliament Sitting, I learned that my siblings were unhappy that I was getting the house. I was not sure why, but I thought the best way to resolve the matter was to transfer the house to them. I first offered to transfer the house to my sister for a nominal sum of $1, on condition that if the property is sold later, or acquired by the Government, all proceeds or compensation would go to charity. Unfortunately, that deal fell through. Subsequently, I made a fresh proposal to sell the house to my brother at fair market value. This time we reached agreement, this was in December 2015 and we also agreed that my brother and I would each donate half the value of the house to charity. We both did so, and in addition I topped up another half myself, in other words, I myself gave away the full value of the house that I had inherited and Together, my brother and I have donated one and a half times the value of the house to charity. So if you understand that properly. The house comes to me, I sell it to my brother for market value. He gives me the value of the house. I gave half of that to charity. He gets the house. In addition, he gives half the amount to charity. On top of that I separately gave half value of the house to charity. So I gave one times the value of the house, he gave away one half times the value. The house is with him. That complicated arrangement, that substantially addressed a major concern of mine: that was that our family be seen not to be benefitting financially from 38 Oxley Road either through receiving compensation from the State for acquisition or resisting acquisition or preservation or conservation to profit by re-developing and selling the property.

ON HOUSE, NO LONGER ANY SUBSTANCE TO DISPUTE

I have given you the background to 38 Oxley Road, our discussions when my father was alive what happened after my father passed away.

Where does the matter stand today? There is, in substance, no longer anything for my siblings and me to dispute over on the matter of the house. We all want our father’s personal wish to be carried out, which is to knock the house down. I no longer have any interest in the house. My brother owns it. I do not take part in in any Government decisions on the house. So why is there still an argument?

I really am not sure, but one possible factor may be a difference in views between me and my siblings and the difference is over this question: what did my father think about the house, apart from demolition? Was his view black and white, all or nothing – demolish the house no matter what? Or was he prepared to consider alternatives should demolition not be possible? My siblings’ view is that my father absolutely wanted to demolish the house, with no compromise. And they point to the first half of the Demolition Clause as evidence. That’s the first section you have in the handout and they say that if he considered any alternatives, such as the next section of the handout that was only because he was under duress because the Government had the power to prevent him or his heirs from knocking it down. My view is that while my father wanted the house to be demolished, he was prepared to consider alternatives should the Government decide otherwise. Indeed, he put it in writing, and approved alternative architectural plans which were submitted to URA, as I explained earlier and approved by the URA. Next, we have to look at the full Demolition Clause, and not just the first half, and the full clause shows that my father did accept alternatives. Further, I have pointed out some unusual circumstances surrounding how the last will was prepared, which are relevant because of the weight that my siblings put on the Demolition Clause in the last will. Despite this difference in views, I still see no need for argument. I have submitted my views to the Ministerial Committee. My siblings have submitted theirs. We have commented on each other’s views. I will leave it in the good hands of the Committee. In any case, the Government has stated that the Committee will not make any decisions on the house, and will not even recommend any decisions on the house to Cabinet. The Committee will only list options for the house, so that when a decision does become necessary one day, perhaps decades from now, the Cabinet of the day, most likely by then under a different Prime Minister, will have these options available to consider. There is therefore no reason at all for anybody to feel “pushed into a corner” by the committee, as my brother has claimed to be.

ALLEGATIONS AGAINST INTEGRITY OF SYSTEM

Regrettably, my siblings have now gone public, and accused me of abusing my office. There are few specifics in their charges. But because of their father is Mr Lee Kuan Yew, their accusations gain some credibility, and I have to take their charges seriously. Which is why I am here addressing them in Parliament. What are their allegations?

MINISTERIAL COMMITTEE

First, the alleged abuse of power. My siblings have given scant details of the charge, but my brother has cited as a “prime example” the setting up of the Ministerial Committee. I have already explained that I have recused myself. DPM Teo is in charge of this matter. I had nothing to do with the decision to set up the Ministerial Committee. I do not give any instructions to the Ministerial Committee or its members. My only dealing with the Committee has been to respond to their requests in writing by formal correspondence, no different from my siblings’ dealings with the Committee. This is the right and proper way to handle a conflict of interest. My siblings argue that even though I have recused myself, the Ministers are my subordinates and therefore, the Ministerial Committee cannot be independent from me. In fact, they say this of Parliament itself. This cannot be right. It is standard way, standard practice for the person facing a potential conflict of interest to recuse himself from the matter in this way, i.e. take himself out from handling the matter or making any decisions about it, and let somebody else deal with it, e.g. his deputy, or some other senior colleague.

This is exactly what I have done in the case of 38 Oxley Road. I myself do not deal with the matter at all. I take no part in discussions or decisions concerning the house.

DPM Teo is in full charge. Ministers and officials report to and take directions from DPM Teo on all 38 Oxley Road matters. Suppose instead that I had decided as PM to knock the house down, and had pushed that decision through without allowing the Government to consider the alternatives, weigh the considerations, and go through due process, just because it was what my father wanted. That would have been a real abuse of power.

That would have gone against the whole system of rules and values that Mr Lee Kuan Yew spent his whole life upholding and building up.

DEED OF GIFT

The second issue my siblings accuse me of is separate from the house itself.

After my father passed away, my siblings gifted artefacts from 38 Oxley Road to the NHB. This was formalised in a Deed of Gift.

My siblings have accused me of improperly obtaining this Deed between them and NHB. They say I obtained the Deed as PM, and gave it to my lawyers, and that was wrong. But I disagree.

The Deed was signed by my sister and brother, who were acting for my father’s estate. I was one of the beneficiaries of the estate. I was entitled to be consulted by my siblings before they did this, but I was not consulted.

In June 2015, Minister Lawrence Wong updated me on a major SG50 exhibition on our founding leaders. He told me the exhibition included artefacts from Oxley Road, and described the conditions attached to the gift.He subsequently gave me the Deed, which I had not seen it before. As Prime Minister, I had every right to see it.

After reading the Deed, I became very concerned over what NHB had agreed to. The terms were onerous and unreasonable to NHB. E.g. whenever NHB displayed the items, it also had to display them together with the first half of the Demolition Clause. But only the first half, which said that Mr Lee wanted the house knocked down, and not the second half of the Clause, which stated what Mr Lee wanted done if the house could not be knocked down. This partial, selective disclosure would mislead the public on Mr Lee’s intentions. Furthermore, my siblings had announced publicly that it was a gift. But in fact they had set conditions in the fine print: if at any time the terms of the Deed were breached, they could immediately take back all the items for $1. Therefore, this was not a gift at all. They had misled the public. Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew had gifted many items to NHB during their lives, and they had never imposed any conditions on their gifts remotely like these. What Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang had imposed on NHB was wrong.

Discovering all this, as Prime Minister, I had to act. Otherwise people might later wrongly think that I was party to this. It is nonsensical to say that because I saw the Deed in my official capacity as PM, I could not raise the matter with a family member. If I come across anyone doing something wrong, even family, especially family, it is my duty to set them right. In the same way, if any Minister discovers, in the course of his official work, that a family member is dealing improperly with some government agency, or seeking to take advantage of the Government, surely the Minister must take this up with the family member, and get him or her to stop. That is what the Code of Conduct is for. This is expected of anyone in a public position, especially me, the Prime Minister. I therefore wrote to my siblings through lawyers to object to what they had done. On the Government’s side, I told Lawrence Wong to take instructions from DPM Teo Chee Hean on this matter.

I believe this was the correct and proper way for me to handle the Deed of Gift.

NEPOTISM

Third, my siblings have made allegations about nepotism, concerning my wife and my son, Hongyi. And that I want 38 Oxley Road kept standing, in order to inherit my father’s credibility and bolster my standing. Hongyi, my son, has publicly said he is not interested in politics. Nor have I pushed him to enter politics. My wife, Ho Ching, is CEO of Temasek Holdings. As CEO, she reports to the Board, chaired by Mr Lim Boon Heng. As a company, Temasek Holdings answers to its shareholder, the Ministry of Finance, under Minister Heng Swee Keat. I have every confidence that both Lim Boon Heng and Heng Swee Keat understand the meaning of good corporate governance. It is the Temasek Board which appoints the CEO, and the appointment has to be confirmed by the President, who is advised by the Council of Presidential Advisors. If Ho Ching ever behaves improperly, I have no doubt that the Temasek Board, the President and CPA know what their duty is. Regarding the house, and how its continued existence enhances my aura as PM, if I needed such magic properties to bolster my authority even after being your PM for 13 years, I must be in a pretty sad state. And if Singaproeans believed such magicwork in Singapore, Singapore must be in an even sadder state.

BRINGING TO PARLIAMENT

I have brought this matter to Parliament because Singaporeans are entitled to a full answer from me and my Government. Parliament may not be a court of law, but it is the highest body in the land. It is also where my Government and I are accountable to MPs and to the people of Singapore.

Many people have asked me why I am not taking legal action, to challenge the will, or sue for defamation, or take some other legal action to put a stop to this and clear my name. These are valid questions. I took advice and considered my options very carefully. I believe I have a strong case. In normal circumstances, in fact, in any other imaginable circumstance than this, I would sue immediately because the accusation of the abuse of power is a very grave one, however baseless it may be and it is in fact an attack not just on me, but on the integrity of the whole Government. But, suing my own brother and sister in court would further besmirch our parents’ names. At the end of the day, we are brother and sister, and we are all our parents’ children. It would also drag out the process for years, and cause more distraction and distress to Singaporeans. Therefore, fighting this out in court cannot be my preferred choice.

Every family will understand that family disputes do happen, but they are not something to flaunt in public. That is why I have done my best to deal with this out of the public eye. For example, I kept my submissions to the Ministerial Committee private. My purpose was not to pursue a fight with my siblings, but to assist the Committee in its work. Unfortunately, my siblings made public allegations against me and then I had no choice but to defend myself, and release the statements and facts about the matter. I stand by the statements I have published but I really do not want to go further if I can help it.

Today I am making this statement in Parliament to account to Members and to Singaporeans and to deal with the issue expeditiously so that Singaporeans can understand what it is all about and we can put the matter to rest, I hope, once and for all.

DPM Teo will be making a Ministerial Statement after me. He will explain his and the Government’s actions and decisions in this matter. Other relevant Ministers will speak too. I invite Members to raise all questions, suspicions or doubts directly in this Chamber, with me and my team.

I have seen the questions filed by the Workers’ Party MPs. It is striking that the questions are general and concern broad principles and rules. They contain no specific allegations or facts about any wrongdoing or impropriety. But if I am mistaken and the WP has come across such allegations or facts, please raise them today. My Ministers and I will deal with all their questions and give comprehensive answers because we have nothing to hide.

I have told the PAP MPs that I am lifting the Party Whip. Strictly speaking, there is no Whip to lift, since no vote will be taken. But I said this to emphasise what I expect from this debate – a robust questioning and a full airing and accounting of the public issues and allegations. All MPs, whether you are PAP MPs, opposition MPs, or NMPs, should query me and my Ministers vigorously and without restraint. That is the way to dispel all the doubts, innuendo and tittle tattle that has been planted and circulated.

That is the way to strengthen confidence in our institutions and our system of government, and refocus our energies on the challenges that we face as a nation

LEGACY WHICH I AM DEFENDING

The legacy of Mr Lee is much more than an old house. Mr Lee’s legacy is Singapore and the values that we uphold.

We have built something special in Singapore. A cohesive, multi-racial, meritocratic society. A fair and just society, where the same rules apply to everybody. Whether you are a Minister, or an ordinary citizen. Whether you are the Prime Minister, or the children of the founding Prime Minister. You are not above the law.

My colleagues and I are in politics and in government, to fight to uphold this legacy to keep Singapore successful. We have sworn to serve Singapore faithfully. When private interests and public duties clash, we make sure that our private interests do not sway our public decisions. When allegations of impropriety and corruption are made, we take them seriously and investigate them fully. Ministers are bound by a Code of Conduct which is tabled in Parliament. And after every General Election, I issue Rules of Prudence to every PAP MP, so that they know how to conduct themselves to protect their own reputation and to safeguard the integrity of the PAP Government and Singapore system.

In Singapore, everyone is equal before the law. Mr Lee understood this most of all. When the dust has settled on this unhappy episode, people must know that the Government in Singapore operates transparently, impartially, and properly. That in Singapore, even Mr Lee’s house and Mr Lee’s wishes are subject to the rule of law. That the Government he built is able to withstand intense and sustained attacks on its reputation and integrity, and emerge not just untainted but in fact strengthened.

THIS IS THE “HOUSE” THAT MR LEE BUILT, NOT 38 OXLEY ROAD

When Mr Lee was asked what were the most important things to him in life, he said “my family and my country”. It pains me that this episode has put both under a cloud, and done damage to Singapore. I hope one day I will be able to resolve the unhappiness within the family. But today I stand here before you to answer your questions, clear any doubts, and show you that you have every reason to maintain your trust in me and my Government. My colleagues and I will continue to serve you and work with you, as we have always done, to the best of our ability.”

 

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