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Rare interview: Li Shengwu felt like the first grandson to Mr and Mrs Lee

Lee Suet Fern tells Yahoo News: They felt that way even though they already had a grandson at that time

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Singapore — In another part of a rare interview with Yahoo News, Lee Suet Fern recalled that her eldest son’s birth in 1985 felt to her in-laws Lee Kuan Yew and Kwa Geok Choo like it was the birth of their first grandson, even though they already had a grandson who was about three years old at the time.

She said with a laugh: “They’re very traditional. They wanted a male grandson, and this was the male grandson they were waiting for. My mother-in-law clucked with pleasure.

“Shengwu’s birth was the biggest event for them on a personal level. Mama was thrilled, Papa was thrilled. They were deliciously, deliriously happy. It meant a lot to them. It felt to them like a first, although my brother-in-law did have a son with his first wife.”

Eldest son Hsien Loong married his first wife Wong Ming Yang in 1978. Their daughter,  Xiuqi, was born in 1981. Three weeks after giving birth to their first son, Yipeng, Wong died of a heart attack at the age of 31 in October 1982.

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Yipeng was born with albinism, a genetic condition.

In 1985, the same year Shengwu was born, Hsien Loong married Ho Ching, a fast-rising civil servant. They have two sons. Hongyi was born in 1987 and Haoyi in 1989.

Meanwhile, Hsien Yang and Suet Fern had two other sons after Shengwu: Huanwu was born in 1986 and Shaowu in 1995.

Aside from his brother Huanwu, Shengwu was closest in age to his cousin Hongyi. The pair were once described as “very close” and were both in the west coast of the United States at one point as Shengwu was pursuing his PhD at Stanford University and Hongyi was working at Google in Silicon Valley.

However, cracks in their relationship became public in 2017 — the year the Lee family feud spilled into the public domain and the year the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) initiated legal action against Shengwu over a private Facebook post during the feud.

In December 2017, Shengwu said he was no longer on speaking terms with Hongyi but that they remained Facebook friends.

Shengwu subsequently decided to remove Hongyi from his Facebook friends list. He wrote on Facebook: “I will continue to be active on Facebook, and will continue to regard my friends-only Facebook posts as private. However, I have removed my cousin Li Hongyi from my Facebook friends list.”

Hongyi responded in a Facebook post of his own and asked his cousin to leave him out of grievances with the authorities. He wrote: “I don’t know what’s going on between you and the government, but I’ve got nothing to do with it. Could you please leave me out of this?”

Hongyi, saying that he had “really tried to not be involved as far as possible”, added: “If there’s something I’ve done that’s led you to believe otherwise, I would be happy to talk with you about it. It’s a bit disconcerting to be repeatedly publicly accused of undermining democracy without understanding why.” 

He added: “I would prefer not to have done this over public Facebook posts. But I suppose that’s how we communicate nowadays.”

Although the exact origins of the rift remain unclear, there is speculation that their relationship fractured around the time the Oxley Road dispute broke out in 2017.

That year, Hsien Yang and his sister Lee Wei Ling accused their elder brother Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister, of using state organs against them and 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.

The younger siblings also accused Hsien Loong of grooming Hongyi for politics. Hongyi responded that he really had no interest in politics.

Shengwu, however, said Hongyi’s comments on a potential entry into politics were “vague”: “He only said he has no interest in politics, but my uncle Lee Hsien Loong also once said he wasn’t interested in politics when he was in his 20s. These words can easily be taken back.”

Although the younger siblings offered a ceasefire, the family appears to remain estranged. In 2018, Hsien Loong said that the family feud remained unresolved and that his siblings had not communicated with him.

He added: “Perhaps one day, when emotions have subsided, some movement will be possible.”

Hsien Yang responded that Hsien Loong had not made any effort to reach out to resolve matters in private. He said: “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.” 

Shengwu was eventually fined S$15,000 after being found guilty in the contempt of court case. He paid the fine in order to “buy some peace and quiet” but insisted that this does not mean he admits guilt.

The AGC also lodged a complaint against Suet Fern to the Law Society, accusing her of being involved in the preparation of her father-in-law’s last will while her husband was one of the beneficiaries.

Suet Fern was censured by a Disciplinary Tribunal for grossly improper professional conduct in the case and appealed against the decision to the Court of Three Judges. Judgment has been reserved on the case.

Rift between Lee cousins widens: Shengwu removes Hongyi from his Facebook friends list

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