Lawyer Kwa Kim Li to face disciplinary tribunal over handling of Lee Kuan Yew's will

Nicholas Yong
·Assistant News Editor
·4-min read
The complaints against Kwa Kim Li's (centre) conduct in the handling of Lee Kuan Yew's will were raised by Lee Hsien Yang (left) and Lee Wei Ling (right), the younger siblings of Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. (PHOTOS: Reuters / Changi Airport Group)
The complaints against Kwa Kim Li's (centre) conduct in the handling of Lee Kuan Yew's will were raised by Lee Hsien Yang (left) and Lee Wei Ling (right), the younger siblings of Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. (PHOTOS: Reuters / Changi Airport Group)

SINGAPORE — Lawyer Kwa Kim Li, a cousin of Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has been referred to a Disciplinary Tribunal (DT) over complaints regarding her conduct in the preparation of the late Lee Kuan Yew's will.

Justice Valerie Thean of the High Court granted an order directing the Law Society to apply to the Chief Justice for the appointment of a DT for a formal investigation into Kwa’s conduct, following a complaint by Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang – the younger siblings of PM Lee.

In a written judgement on Wednesday (21 April), the DT was instructed to investigate two more of the Lees' complaints: that Kwa failed to follow the instructions of the late Lee to destroy his superseded wills, and that she had given false and misleading information to them in two e-mails in 2015. 

Kwa, managing partner of the Lee and Lee law firm, is a maternal cousin of the Lees. Between 20 August 2011 and 2 November 2012, she prepared six of the late Lee’s wills. Wei Ling had previously accused Kwa of “lying” about the latter’s supposed non-involvement in the events that led to her father’s 2013 will.

Background to the case

Lee Hsien Yang, son of former leader Lee Kuan Yew, delivers his eulogy during the funeral service at the University Cultural Centre at the National University of Singapore March 29, 2015. Grieving Singaporeans were joined by world leaders on Sunday to pay their final respects to the country's first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, as the nation came to a near-halt to honour its
Lee Hsien Yang, son of former PM Lee Kuan Yew, delivers his eulogy during the funeral service at the University Cultural Centre at the National University of Singapore 29 March 2015. (REUTERS/Edgar Su)

Hsien Yang and Wei Ling, the executors of the late Lee's estate, had first written to the Law Society on 5 September 2019 with four complaints about Kwa:

  • That she had failed to follow the late Lee's instructions to destroy his superseded wills

  • That she had breached privilege and her duties of confidentiality by sending e-mails with records of communications with the late Lee to PM Lee

  • That she had failed to keep proper contemporaneous notes and records of all the advice given and instructions received from the late Lee; and

  • That she had given false and misleading information to the executors in her 4 June 2015 and 22 June 2015 e-mails

These were investigated by an Inquiry Committee (IC) in 2019, which initially recommended that the first and second complaints be referred to a DT. Following queries by the Council of the Law Society, the IC ultimately determined that a DT should only be convened for the second complaint, with the other complaints dismissed. 

On 21 September 2020, the siblings applied to ask that the Law Society be directed to apply to the Chief Justice to convene a DT for the other complaints as well. 

'Procedurally defective'

Justice Thean ruled that it was "procedurally defective" of the Council to refer the matter back to the IC after its initial findings. It had an "obligation" to accept the IC’s initial recommendation that there should be a formal investigation by a DT in respect of the first complaint.

Furthermore, as the IC had initially concluded that there was a case on these issues, its statutory role was "not to make a finding on this factual issue, but merely to channel it to the proper fact-finding body – the DT," said the judge.

Given that the Council was also faced with "two conflicting views" as to whether a case was made out on the first complaint, it ought to have concluded that a formal investigation by a DT was necessary.

On the fourth complaint, Justice Thean concluded that an examination of the potential ethical breach and mental state pertinent to such a breach would be necessary to conclude whether, as an ethical matter, Kwa’s statements were false and misleading.

The High Court order is the latest twist in the long running Lee saga, which first erupted on 14 June 2017 when Wei Ling and Hsien Yang issued a joint statement of “no confidence” against PM Lee.

They claimed to have been threatened amid his pursuit of an alleged personal agenda over their former family home at 38 Oxley Road and accused their brother of plotting to keep the house in order to build a political dynasty.

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