Singapore – A Disciplinary Tribunal has found lawyer Lee Suet Fern guilty of improper professional conduct in handling the last will of founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
The case will be referred to a Court of Three Judges, the highest disciplinary body that deals with the misconduct of lawyers.
The tribunal was appointed by Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon and it comprised Senior Counsel Sarjit Singh Gill and lawyer Leon Yee Kee Shian.
The tribunal, which released its 206-page report last week, called Mrs Lee a “deceitful witness, who tailored her evidence to portray herself as an innocent victim who had been maligned”.
Mrs Lee played a role in the preparation and execution of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s last will that was signed on Dec 17, 2013, although he had earlier signed a will with his lawyer, Ms Kwa Kim Li.
This is an extract from the tribunal report:
“The facts expose an unsavoury tale. The respondent (Mrs Lee Suet Fern) and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, on Dec 16, 2013, persuaded their aged father-in-law/father, Mr Lee (then a 90-year-old man in poor health, who had recently been hospitalised for several weeks, with serious medical conditions) to sign a new will, without his usual lawyer (Ms Kwa Kim Li), to advise him. They cut off that lawyer … from communications with Mr Lee on the last will, and rushed through the execution of the last will, in her absence.
“The respondent took over as the lawyer to prepare the last will and advise Mr Lee, and misled Mr Lee on the terms of the last will that he was going to sign. Mr Lee was persuaded into signing the last will within 16 hours — the respondent sent a draft of the last will at 7.08 pm on Dec 16, 2013, and it was signed at 11.10 am on Dec 17, 2013.
“The will that Mr Lee signed was very different from both the penultimate will, and the proposed codicil (that Mr Lee had discussed and agreed with Ms Kwa Kim Li, on Dec 13, 2013, four days before he signed the last will prepared by the respondent). The respondent gave the briefest of advice to Mr Lee, and did not alert him to all the differences between what Mr Lee had earlier wanted and what the last will actually provided for.”
Mrs Lee’s portrayal of herself as an innocent victim was a “facade”, said the tribunal. “Before us, she lied or became evasive whenever she thought it was to her benefit to lie or evade.”
The tribunal added that the actions of Mr Lee Hsien Yang were “equally deceitful”. It noted how he “tried to hide how he and his wife had misled his own father, Mr Lee, on the last will. He had no qualms about making up evidence as he went along. We found him to be cynical about telling the truth”.
According to reports in The Sunday Times and straitstimes.com, the tribunal found Mrs Lee’s behaviour to be “egregious and grossly improper”. The case did not portray “sheer incompetence, inadvertent negligence or even reckless indifference”, it said. “The respondent (Mrs Lee Suet Fern), acting as Mr Lee’s lawyer, deliberately failed to discharge the duties that she was supposed to perform. Her breaches are egregious.”
The report continued to describe the respondent’s conduct as lacking in integrity, probity and trustworthiness required of a lawyer.
In December 2013, Mr Lee Kuan Yew communicated with his lawyer, Ms Kwa Kim Li, through e-mail exchange and notified her of some changes on his will (which was then the sixth version).
He wanted to give his three children equal share to his estate instead of giving his daughter, Dr Lee Wei Ling, an extra share as was the initial plan. He also wished to bequeath one silk and one wool carpet to Mr Lee Hsien Yang.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew instructed his lawyer to include the revisions through an amendment on his penultimate will.
However, the revised will that he received included clauses such as the demolition of the house at 38 Oxley Road which had been previously deleted, among others. The tribunal discovered that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had signed the last version of the will without legal advice from his usual lawyer. Ms Kwa Lim Li was cut out of communications on the last will, said the tribunal.
If found guilty by the Court of Three Judges, Mrs Lee could be fined, suspended or disbarred from her profession as a lawyer. /TISG
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