One of the grandsons of Singapore’s late founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Li Shengwu, left Singapore two weeks earlier than planned after the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) demanded that he purge and apologise for private comments made only to friends on his Facebook page that “the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system.”
Shengwu’s post was somehow leaked to the public. The AGC then told reporters that it was “looking into” the post, despite the fact that it was never meant to be public, and later sent an official letter to Shengwu in which Senior State Counsel Francis Ng called the post “an egregious and baseless attack” on the legal system and asked Shengwu to apologise unreservedly, on top of signing a declaration that he had made false allegations and was in contempt of the judiciary.
The AGC also threatened legal action against the nephew of Singapore’s current head of government, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, if he fails to accede to its demands.
Shengwu, who was here to attend a friend’s wedding, left the city-state two days after receiving AGC’s threat. He told Reuters that his friends expressed concerns that he might be detained in the country and unable to return to the USA where he lives and works:
“In Singapore, it is possible that one can be detained and interrogated for some time without a lawyer. My friends had warned me that they were concerned for my safety if I remained in Singapore.”
Shengwu, who was ultimately not able to be present at the wedding he had planned to attend, chose not to identify his friends or relay the information they provided to him to the news agency.
After departing from the country, he decided against deleting his post and apologising. He had declared then: “I will not buy a quiet life at the price of my integrity.”
The AGC responded by initiating contempt of court legal proceedings against him.
In response to his comments to Reuters, the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary Chang Li Lin asserted that it is “not accurate” to discuss detention and interrogation in this case:
“This is a well-established legal process. Clear laws and procedures apply to all cases of contempt, including this case involving Mr Li. The courts will decide on the merits of the case.”
A spokesperson for the AGC declined to comment since the case is in court.
In his interview with the agency, Shengwu also questioned whether the party his grandfather pioneered – the ruling People’s Action Party – has too much control. He said:
“I worry that Singapore’s ruling party tries too hard to maintain a monopoly on credibility.”
Press Secretary Chang retorted that the PAP has been democratically elected and that individuals dissatisfied by the party’s work can contest elections and appeal to voters that they can perform better.
This response may be unsatisfactory to some as it can be argued that opposition parties contesting in elections already start out on an uneven playing field since the government has links to institutions, like mainstream media.
In fact, it was allegations related to these wide-reaching powers that put the spotlight on Shengwu when his father Lee Hsien Yang and aunt Lee Wei Ling accused PM Lee of abusing his power to preserve their family home, 38 Oxley Road, against their father’s willed desire to demolish the house.
The siblings alleged that their elder brother had convened a secret committee to make a decision on the house and that state organs were being used against them. PM Lee addressed the allegations against him in a Parliamentary debate where he declared that he has been cleared of all charges. He added that he does not intend to sue his siblings.
Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang reinforced their allegations following this, but offered a ceasefire on releasing further evidence in favor of settling the matter in private, as long as they are not attacked or misrepresented.
Shengwu’s private comments that got him into trouble with the AGC were made in connection to a Wall Street Journal article that covered the Oxley dispute.
Although his family appears fractured now due to the disputes that have spilled into the public domain, Shengwu said that the Lee family was a close-knit one as recently as three or four years ago:
“I saw my uncle and my cousins a lot growing up. I’d say we all got along well as late as three or four years ago … The tragedy of this is that this is not what my grandfather would have wanted.”