Singapore, November 20
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s sister-in-law was on Friday barred from practising law for 15 months over professional misconduct in her handling of the final will of Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore and the patriarch of the Lee family.
The Court of Three Judges, the highest disciplinary body for the legal profession, found senior lawyer Lee Suet Fern, 62, guilty of “misconduct unbefitting an advocate and solicitor”, for preparing and executing the will which is seen as a gain for her husband, Lee Hsien Yang, the Prime Minister’s younger brother.
Following the death of Lee Kuan, the Prime Minister and his brother are disputing the status of the family property at Oxley Rise on the outskirt of the central business district and hotel belt of Orchard Road.
A disciplinary tribunal (DT) had found Lee Suet guilty of grossly improper professional conduct in February this year.
The court held a virtual hearing in August, where the Law Society set out its arguments for why Lee Suet should be disbarred over her handling of the will. Her lawyers called for all charges to be dropped, according to a report by The Straits Times.
The court, comprising Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon, Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash and Justice Woo Bih Li, said it did not agree with some of the tribunal’s findings, in particular that there was an implied retainer between Lee Suet and the senior Lee and that they were in a solicitor-client relationship.
The court also said she did not receive instructions or directions directly from the senior Lee.
The case centred on the role Lee Suet played in the preparation and execution of the last will of the late Singapore leader that was signed on December 17, 2013. He died on March 23, 2015, at the age of 91.
His last will differed from his sixth and penultimate will in significant ways, and did not contain some changes he had wanted and discussed with his lawyer Kwa Kim Li four days earlier.
Among the differences was a demolition clause — relating to the demolition of his 38 Oxley Road house after his death — which had not been in the sixth or penultimate will but was in the last.
The share of the estate bequeathed to each of his three children was also different, with Dr Lee Wei Ling (The Prime Minister’s sister), Lee Hsien Yang (brother) and their elder brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, given equal shares. In the sixth will, Dr Lee was to receive a bigger share.
Lee Suet role in the handling of the last will had triggered a complaint by the Attorney-General’s Chambers to the Law Society in January last year about possible professional misconduct.
Deputy Attorney-General Lionel Yee had asked that the case be referred to a disciplinary tribunal and a two-man tribunal, comprising Senior Counsel Sarjit Singh Gill and lawyer Leon Yee Kee Shian, was appointed by CJ Menon.
The tribunal had said in its 206-page grounds of decision that the facts exposed an “unsavoury tale” of how she and her husband had misled the senior Lee to sign a new will without the advice of his usual lawyer Kwa (a relative for the Lee family), who had prepared all six of his previous wills.
The senior Lee, architect of modern Singapore and the Asian financial hub, was then aged 90 and in poor health.
In a statement posted on Facebook by her husband Lee Hsien on Friday, she said she disagreed with the decision.
“There was no basis for this case to have even been initiated. This was a private will,” The Straits Times quoted her as saying. PTI