Ho Ching’s tenure as the CEO of Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund, Temasek, and her undisclosed salary, continue to be a subject of controversy and speculation, especially within her own family.
The latest spark to ignite this ongoing family feud was a recent Facebook post by Ho Ching’s brother-in-law, Lee Hsien Yang. The post questioned the reason behind the secrecy surrounding Ho Ching’s salary, leading Singaporeans to wonder if the tensions within the Lee family, which includes Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, show no signs of abating.
For the uninitiated, Ho Ching, the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, is at the center of an ongoing family dispute that has gripped the city-state for several years. The late Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding Prime Minister, and father to the Prime Minister, had two younger children, Dr. Lee Wei Ling and Mr. Lee Hsien Yang. Since the patriarch’s passing in 2015, there have been clear signs of a fractured relationship within the family.
Mr. Lee Kuan Yew passed away in 2015. In 2016, speculation arose that all may not be well within the Lee family when Dr. Lee Wei Ling published a series of e-mail exchanges between herself and The Straits Times editors. In one email, she had written:
“HL has no qualms abusing his power to hv a commemoration just one year after LKY died, ‘least (sic) we forget’.
“Let’s be real, last year’s event was so vivid no one will forget it in one yr. But if the power that be wants to establish a dynasty, LKY’s daughter will not allow LKY’s name to be sullied by a dishonourable son.”
PM Lee criticized his sister’s allegation that he wants to establish a dynasty as “completely untrue.” That same day, Mdm Ho posted a photo of a monkey raising its middle finger on Twitter and Facebook.
Netizens responding to the PM’s wife’s post speculated that the photo may be directed at her sister-in-law.
Mdm Ho later apologized for the photo and explained the post away as an unintentional social media gaffe. She said: “Peace, folks, and embarrassed apologies from this Twitter newbie…Discovered Twitter reposts pictures without captions, and unfortunately, one of the pictures could be misunderstood on its own. Took down as soon as a friend alerted me.”
Just over a year later, in 2017, Dr. Lee Wei Ling and Mr. Lee Hsien Yang accused PM Lee of using state organs against them.
The younger siblings accused PM Lee of abusing his power to preserve their family home against their father’s willed desire to demolish the house, in order to bolster his grip on power, and of grooming his son Li Hongyi for politics.
That same year, Mr. Lee Hsien Yang accused Mdm Ho of overstepping her role and acting as a contact for the Prime Minister’s Office in lending items that belonged to Mr. Lee Kuan Yew to the National Heritage Board.
Mr. Lee said that Mdm Ho helped herself to a number of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s papers on 5 Feb 2015, when his father was admitted gravely ill into the ICU. He said that it is “deeply troubling that someone can represent the PMO despite holding no official position.”
In an open letter to her brother-in-law, Mdm Ho disputed his account. Her husband later cleared himself of the charges that his siblings leveled against him in Parliament – an arena where his siblings had no opportunity to speak for themselves.
Despite a ceasefire that the younger siblings offered, the siblings’ relationship with PM Lee and Mdm Ho seems to have become even more fractured.
In October last year, Mr. Lee revealed that PM Lee had not made any effort to reach out to resolve matters in private. His comments followed PM Lee’s own remarks that the family feud remains unresolved and that the trio has not communicated recently.
Describing the family feud as being in “abeyance,” PM Lee said, “I’m not sure if it’s solved,” before adding that he was still saddened by the dispute over the siblings’ family home, but expressed hope that relations with his siblings will improve in future, when “emotions have subsided.”
He added: “Perhaps one day when emotions have subsided, some movement will be possible.”
Taking issue with his brother’s words, Lee Hsien Yang hit back: “Our brother says he is unsure that the feud is solved. Notwithstanding his public statements, Hsien Loong has made no attempt to reach out to us to resolve matters in private.
“Meanwhile, the Attorney General is busy prosecuting Hsien Loong’s nephew for his private correspondence. The AGC’s letters make repeated reference to the family feud.”
The Attorney-General’s Office has also lodged a complaint against Mr. Lee Hsien Yang’s wife, Lee Suet Fern, accusing her of being involved in the preparation of her father-in-law’s last will while her husband was one of the beneficiaries.
Both Dr. Lee Wei Ling and Mr. Lee Hsien Yang have vehemently denied any claim that Lee Suet Fern played a part in preparing Lee Kuan Yew’s will and said that the will was drafted by Kwa Kim Lee, their cousin who is the managing partner of Lee & Lee.
The AGC asserted that lawyer Kwa Kim Lee, who was identified by Lee Hsien Yang as the one who drafted the last will, denied doing so. Both the Straits Times and Channel NewsAsia contacted Kwa Kim Lee and asked her whether she prepared Lee Kuan Yew’s last will.
Kwa Kim Lee denied any involvement in the making of the last will to both publications. The Straits Times reported: “Ms. Kwa, who is currently overseas, told The Straits Times: ‘I did not prepare the last will.’ Her statement contradicts an earlier one made by Mr. Lee Hsien Yang, who is her cousin and the younger son of the late Mr. Lee.”
Channel NewsAsia reported: “In response to queries from Channel NewsAsia on Mr. Lee Hsien Yang’s assertion, Ms. Kwa said: “No, I did not prepare the last will.”
On Tuesday (30 Apr), Dr. Lee Wei Ling cast doubt upon Ms. Kwa Kim Lee’s statements as she released email correspondence between her father and Ms. Kwa Kim Lee, said to be proving that the lawyer prepared the last will.
Asserting that Ms. Kwa Kim Lee lied and breached her duties to her client, Dr. Lee wrote:
“My dishonourable brother Loong has repeatedly alleged that my sister-in-law, Yang’s wife, prepared and somehow got our father to sign a will in December 2013. Kwa Kim Li (KKL) of Lee & Lee has denied involvement in the events that led to this 2013 will. These are all falsehoods. KKL has been lying. She has also breached her duties to her client, my father.”
Ms Kwa did not respond to Dr Lee’s post and mainstream media, which reported that Ms Kwa denied any involvement in the preparation of the will, neglected to report on Dr Lee’s rebuttal.
That was nearly a month and a half ago and it was the last that Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang had publicly spoken about any family member – until Wednesday (8 July) when Mr Lee asked why his sister-in-law’s salary remains a secret.
Temasek Holdings posted its returns this week. The returns showed that its one year return was 1.49%. The returns are above the headline inflation rate but slightly below the core inflation rate of 1.7%. Temasek Holdings’ results showed a rise in net portfolio value from $308 billion to $313 billion.
Referring to the posting of results by the sovereign wealth fund, Mr Lee said, “no surprise that it still didn’t disclose Ho Ching’s salary,” and asked, “Why is it such a big secret?” Mr Lee linked an old article from The Independent (TISG) to his Facebook post.
TISG had reported on a blog post by blogger Phillip Ang where he said Temasek Holdings should be transparent. Mr Ang explained, “this is because Temasek Holdings (Private) Ltd and Government-Linked Companies (GLCs) are considered to be private sector companies”.
His post speculated how much Mdm Ho could be earning based upon the salaries of other top earners in the industry, adding, “One thing for certain, Ho is unlikely to be paid lower than CEOs under her charge”.
Mr Ang added: “Last year, the highest paid GLC CEO was Piyush Gupta of DBS Group who took home $10.3 million.”
According to Mr Ang, before Charles Goodyear was hired to be CEO of Temasek Holdings in 2009, he was already earning a salary of $54 million at BHP Billiton. Mr Ang then said, “Logically, Charles must have been offered more than his $54 million salary to quit BHP Billiton”.
He then calculated, “conservatively assuming Ho was earning $54 million then and had worked without any break, this works out to $147,945 a day or about 25 times of the PM’s salary.” After looking at the doubling portfolio value of Temasek Holdings, Mr Ang speculated that Ho earns “about $300,000 a day”.