Singapore court orders inquiry into alleged misconduct by Kwa Kim Li, lawyer handling wills of late Lee Kuan Yew

A Singapore High Court judge on Wednesday granted bids by Dr Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang for a disciplinary tribunal to investigate the alleged misconduct of the former lawyer of their late father, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, Channel News Asia reports.

Justice Valerie Thean ordered the Law Society to apply to the Chief Justice to appoint a disciplinary tribunal to look into two of the Lee siblings’ complaints about the conduct of Kwa Kim Li over the handling of the late Lee Kuan Yew’s wills.

The two complaints, outlined in a letter by the two Lee siblings to the Law Society in September 2019, were that Kwa had failed to follow Lee Kuan Yew’s instructions to destroy his superseded wills, and that she had given false and misleading information to them in two emails she sent in June 2015.

Kwa, the managing partner of law firm Lee & Lee, had helped Lee Kuan Yew draft six wills between Aug 20, 2011 and Nov 2, 2012. His first will and last will were not prepared by Kwa.

Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang submitted a letter to the Law Society dated September 5, 2019, comprising four complaints about Kwa.

The four complaints are:

  • First, that Kwa had failed to follow Lee Kuan Yew’s instructions to destroy his superseded wills
  • Second, that Kwa 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 executor of the estate
  • Third, that Kwa had failed to keep proper contemporaneous notes and records of all the advice given and instructions received from Lee Kuan Yew
  • Fourth, that Kwa had given false and misleading information to the executors Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling in two June 2015 emails.

After considering reports dated May 2020 and August 2020, the Council of the Law Society wrote to Dr Lee and Lee Hsien Yang on Sep 7, 2020 informing them that it would apply to the Chief Justice to appoint a disciplinary tribunal only for the second complaint.

However, the Lee siblings made an application to the court, seeking Kwa’s conduct for the remaining three complaints to be investigated as well.

Justice Thean on Wednesday found that prima facie cases – cases that are of a matter of sufficient gravity for formal investigation – were established for only the first and fourth complaints.

The complaints were over Kwa’s alleged failure to adhere to Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s instructions to destroy the superseded wills, and for giving false and misleading information to the two Lee siblings.

Justice Thean ordered the charge for the first complaint to be framed according to the Inquiry Committee’s report, as the committee found there was a case made out.

The fourth complaint of giving false and misleading information centred around two emails Kwa sent to Lee Hsien Yang and his sister in June 2015.

After their father died, PM Lee and Dr Lee asked Kwa for records and information of the various wills that Lee Kuan Yew had signed prior to his final will.

Kwa replied to them in an email on Jun 4, 2015 and included Mr Lee Hsien Yang in her reply captioned: “Chronology of 6 Wills – my file records with focus on Oxley”.

Kwa had framed the request made by PM Lee and Dr Lee as one for “file records of (Lee Kuan Yew’s) previous wills, for notes/emails/information on his instructions to (Kwa) regarding Oxley”. Oxley refers to Lee Kuan Yew’s family home, a subject of contention among his children after his death in March 2015.

The two younger Lee siblings contend that Kwa made a significant omission in her June 4, 2015 email by failing to mention her discussions with their father in emails sent in November and December 2013.

Justice Thean said Kwa’s email did represent its content to be a comprehensive summary of the work Kwa had done on the six wills and the Oxley property, but failed to include information about Lee Kuan Yew’s instructions regarding changes to his sixth will and their discussions about the Oxley property in 2013.

“This could have misled the executors into thinking that the Jun 4, 2015 email contained everything regarding the first six wills and the Oxley property,” said Justice Thean.

While considering the initial queries, Kwa’s answer could be misleading in that it was not a full answer, the High Court judge said.

After this email, Prime Minister Lee and Dr Lee had further queries, so Kwa wrote another email on Jun 22, 2015 to the three Lee siblings, titled Estate of Lee Kuan Yew.

Two days after this, Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee’s lawyers wrote to Kwa to note that the documents and information relating to Lee Kuan Yew’s past wills were confidential and subject to attorney-client privilege. They requested that no further documents be disclosed to any party except the authorised representatives of Lee Kuan Yew’s estate. Prime Minister Lee was not an executor named in his father’s final will.

The judge noted that Kwa had also stated that Lee Kuan Yew did not instruct her to change his will after signing his sixth will, but this representation “was not correct” as further emails showed instructions from Lee Kuan Yew regarding changes to his sixth will.

“In my view, in the full context of the initial queries, the Jun 4, 2015 email contained an omission. The Jun 22, 2015 email made a representation that was not true, and omitted to answer fully the specific question that was repeated. The issue is whether these emails should be characterised as false and misleading, and the executors submit that they should be so characterised,” Justice Thean said.

She added it was plausible that Kwa did not intend to make any false and misleading statement, but said there was a range of possibilities as to what inference should be drawn – which would fall on the disciplinary tribunal during its investigation.

Justice Thean did not order an investigation into the third complaint – that Kwa had failed to properly record all the advice and instructions that Lee Kuan Yew gave her.

The Law Society had submitted that Kwa did keep sufficient notes, citing various examples and arguing that “a mere failure to keep detailed and formal notes on every occasion should not of itself result in a sanction against a legal professional.”

Justice Thean agreed there was no prima facie failure to keep proper records raised and dismissed the two Lee siblings’ application to order an investigation into this complaint.

Under the Legal Profession Act, all advocates and solicitors proven guilty of any breaches that amount to improper conduct or practice can be struck off the roll, censured or made to pay monetary penalties.-Photos: Today/AFP/CNA

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