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SINGAPORE, April 21 — A High Court judge has ordered the Law Society of Singapore (LawSoc) to apply for a disciplinary tribunal to be convened to investigate more complaints on the conduct of Kwa Kim Li, who was the late Lee Kuan Yew’s lawyer.
In her written judgment released today, Justice Valerie Thean ruled that two complaints dismissed by the LawSoc last year should be probed.
The complaints are that Kwa did not follow Lee Kuan Yew’s instructions to destroy his earlier wills and that she gave two of his children — Dr Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang — false and misleading information.
In doing so, the judge granted part of the siblings’ application for a tribunal to investigate all four complaints they had lodged against Kwa.
Justice Thean however dismissed one complaint in relation to Kwa’s failure to keep proper records.
Kwa, a managing partner at law firm Lee and Lee, had prepared six wills for Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding prime minister, between Aug 20, 2011 and Nov 2, 2012.
Dr Lee and Lee Hsien Yang, who are the two executors of their father’s estate, lodged four complaints in September 2019 over Kwa’s conduct.
Kwa is the niece of the Lee siblings’ late mother Kwa Geok Choo.
A family dispute over the Lee family home at 38 Oxley Road was made public in June 2017, when Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee posted a six-page statement on Facebook accusing their brother — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong — of abusing his authority to prevent the demolition of the house.
Lee Kuan Yew had seven wills in total, and from the fifth will onwards, a demolition clause was omitted but was reinstated in the seventh and final will.
The demolition clause states that it was the wish of Lee Kuan Yew and his wife for the house to be demolished immediately after his death or, “if my daughter, Wei Ling, would prefer to continue living in the original house, immediately after she moves out”.
After Lee Kuan Yew died in 2015, Dr Lee and Lee Hsien Yang asked Kwa for records and information regarding the various wills that their father had signed before his final will dated Dec 17, 2013. Kwa was not involved in this final will.
In their letter of complaint to the LawSoc, Dr Lee and Lee Hsien Yang listed the following concerns:
- Kwa failed to follow Lee Kuan Yew’s instructions to destroy his superseded wills
- She breached privilege and her duties of confidentiality by sending emails with records of communications with Lee Kuan Yew to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was not an estate executor
- She failed to keep proper contemporaneous notes and records of all the advice given and instructions received from Lee Kuan Yew
- She gave false and misleading information to Dr Lee and Lee Hsien Yang in two emails she sent them in June 2015 by leaving out discussions as well as the November and December 2013 emails she exchanged with Lee Kuan Yew about his final will and the Oxley home
The LawSoc subsequently convened an inquiry committee to look into the matter.
In September last year, the committee recommended that the second complaint be referred to a disciplinary tribunal for a formal investigation, while the other three complaints were to be dismissed.
The committee held the unanimous view that documentary evidence had failed to demonstrate Lee Kuan Yew’s express intention for all his prior wills to be physically destroyed or torn up by Kwa.
While the committee had initially recommended that this complaint be investigated, they changed their stance later in a second report.
They accepted Kwa’s oral explanation — not given in previous written explanations — that she used the word “destroy” in a colloquial manner to “explain the impact of revocation of a will to lay persons”.
In a note dated December 2011, Kwa wrote that she tore up Lee Kuan Yew’s first will. But the committee declined to infer that he had instructed her to do so, saying that she appeared to have forgotten why she wrote the note.
Dissatisfied with this, Dr Lee and Lee Hsien Yang filed a court application shortly afterwards, asking that the LawSoc be directed to apply to the Chief Justice to convene a tribunal for all four complaints.
The siblings put forth their application under Section 96(1) of the Legal Profession Act which states that a person may apply to a judge if he is dissatisfied with the LawSoc’s decision following his complaint.
High Court’s decision
Justice Thean granted an order for the first and fourth complaints, after finding that a “prima facie case on a matter of sufficient gravity for formal investigation” had been established for them.
The second complaint will also stand, given that the committee had recommended an investigation on it.
A prima facie case is based on evidence first seen at the time.
On the supposed destroying of Lee Kuan Yew’s wills, Justice Thean found that the LawSoc Council, upon receiving the committee’s second report, was “confronted with not only a lack of an answer to the professional practice queries posed, but also two conflicting views as to whether a prima facie case was made out on a factual issue”.
“In such a case, the Council ought to have… concluded that a formal investigation by a disciplinary tribunal would be necessary,” the judge said.
As for Kwa giving false and misleading information, Justice Thean found that in a June 2015 email to Dr Lee and Lee Hsien Yang, Kwa had sought to give a comprehensive summary of her work on the first six wills and the Oxley property.
However, it did not include information about Lee Kuan Yew’s instruction regarding changes to the sixth will, as well as their discussions about the Oxley property in 2013.
Kwa had also stated that after Lee Kuan Yew signed his sixth will, he did not instruct her to change it.
This was not correct as emails showed he had given such instructions, Justice Thean noted.
She stressed however that the tribunal is not bound by her assessment of the evidence and the three complaints can be “appropriately reframed”. — TODAY