Lee Siblings Lodge 4 Complaints Against Cousin, 3 Of Them Will Be Investigated By Disciplinary Tribunal
The Lee family saga has been in the news on and off since 2017, and it seems that it’s far from finished.
Most recently, Mrs Lee Suet Fern – the sister-in-law of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong – was suspended from practising law due to misconduct over the preparation of the will of founding father Lee Kuan Yew.
Now, the focus has turned to another lawyer involved in preparing Mr Lee’s wills – Ms Kwa Kim Li.
One of the things she’s been accused of is failing to destroy Mr Lee’s previous wills, as he had purportedly wanted her to.
For the complaints against her, she will be facing a disciplinary tribunal.
Who is Kwa Kim Li?
Ms Kwa might not be a familiar name to some Singaporeans, but she’s a major figure in Singapore’s legal scene.
According to her profile on their website, she’s the managing partner of Lee and Lee, Advocates and Solicitors – a law firm founded in 1955 by Mr Lee Kuan Yew himself.
She’s also the niece of Mr Lee’s wife, the late Mdm Kwa Geok Choo.
Ms Kwa with Mdm Kwa.
That makes her the cousin of PM Lee and his siblings.
PM Lee’s siblings made complaint against lawyer
Ms Kwa’s troubles started when PM Lee’s younger siblings, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, made complaints against her in Sep 2019.
According to Mr Lee, they said that Ms Kwa:
- failed to destroy Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s wills that were superseded, according to his instructions.
- breached attorney-client privilege and confidentiality by sending emails containing correspondence with Mr Lee Kuan Yew to PM Lee.
- failed to keep proper notes and records of advice and instructions from Mr Lee Kuan Yew.
- gave false and misleading info to executors of the estate (i.e. Mr Lee & Dr Lee) in 2 emails in 2015, after Mr Lee’s death.
Law Society proceeds with 1 complaint
When the Law Society of Singapore received the complaints, they referred them to an inquiry committee, reported The Straits Times (ST).
The inquiry committee recommended that action be taken on only complaints 1 & 2:
- failure to destroy wills
- breach of attorney-client privilege and confidentiality
However, the Law Society ultimately chose to proceed with just 1 complaint:
2. breach of attorney-client privilege and confidentiality
Lee siblings take case to High Court
Mr Lee and Dr Lee then took the case to the High Court in Sep 2020.
They sought an order from the High Court to tell the Law Society to appoint a disciplinary tribunal over 3 of the complaints, reported TODAY Online.
Finally, Justice Valerie Thean ruled on Wednesday (21 Apr) that the disciplinary tribunal should investigate 3 complaints in total:
1. failure to destroy wills
2. breach of attorney-client privilege and confidentiality
4. giving false and misleading info to executors
Mr Lee outlined the sequence of events in a graphic he posted on Facebook on Wednesday (21 Apr).
What was the reasoning for the High Court’s ruling? Let’s dissect the 3 complaints.
Failure to destroy wills
Ms Kwa helped the late Mr Lee draft a total of 6 wills, according to ST.
In Feb 2019, Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling asked Ms Kwa to send them all the documents on the late Mr Lee’s instructions for all the 6 wills.
Mr Lee and Dr Lee then found a note dated Dec 21, 2011. In it, Ms Kwa recorded that she “tore up” one of Mr Lee’s wills in front of him.
Photo for illustration purposes only.
The siblings thus alleged that Ms Kwa didn’t follow Mr Lee’s orders to destroy wills that had been superseded.
When the complaint got to the Law Society’s inquiry committee, it found that on 1st appearance, there was a case.
However, in another report, it said there wasn’t enough evidence that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had wanted his superseded wills to be physically destroyed.
The High Court said that since the inquiry committee had 2 different conclusions in its reports, the complaint should have been referred to a disciplinary tribunal.
2. Breach of attorney-client privilege and confidentiality
After Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s death in Mar 2015, PM Lee and Dr Lee asked Ms Kwa for info on the wills he had signed before the final one.
Ms Kwa replied them in an email on 4 Jun 2015, also including Mr Lee Hsien Yang in her reply. She sent a 2nd email to all 3 siblings on 22 Jun 2015.
The emails contained all sorts of documents and info on the Mr Lee’s previous wills.
However, after she sent the emails, lawyers for Mr Lee and Dr Lee told Ms Kwa that the info was confidential and subject to attorney-client privilege.
Thus, they asked her not to send any more of such documents to anybody except the executors of Mr Lee’s estate – Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee.
This complaint was accepted by the Law Society and will be investigated by the disciplinary tribunal.
4. Giving false and misleading info to executors
Though Ms Kwa had sent the 3 Lee siblings a lot of info in her 4 Jun email, Mr Lee and Dr Lee allege that she didn’t mention something.
Ms Kwa had apparently discussed 38 Oxley Road with the late Mr Lee, in emails exchanged in Nov and Dec 2013.
Mr Lee and Dr Lee also said that Ms Kwa didn’t tell them about the late Mr Lee’s instructions regarding the shares given to each child in will No. 6, as well as something else regarding the family home.
They thus alleged that Ms Kwa left out that info on purpose.
The Law Society threw out the complaint, saying Ms Kwa’s 4 Jun email was a summary and the info she left out wasn’t relevant.
However, Justice Thean of the High Court said Ms Kwa’s 4 Jun email did “represent its content to be a comprehensive summary”, but it still left out certain info.
The judge added,
This could have misled the executors into thinking that the 4 Jun 2015, email contained everything regarding the first 6 wills and the Oxley property.
Thus, she said the disciplinary tribunal should investigate this complaint.
Prolonging the Lee family saga
The High Court ruling means the Law Society must now apply to the Chief Justice to appoint the disciplinary tribunal to look into the complaints against Ms Kwa.
Coming so soon after Mrs Lee’s suspension, it means that both lawyers who helped the late Mr Lee to prepare wills are now beset by disciplinary issues.
The case only serves to prolong any resolution to the Lee family saga, which to some Singaporeans must feel like it’s going to go on for some time yet.
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