The matter of the Deed of Gift involving artefacts taken from the late Lee Kuan Yew’s Oxley Road home that were handed over to the National Heritage Board (NHB) was handled “correctly and above board”, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.
Speaking in Parliament on Monday (3 July), Wong sought to clear the air in response to allegations made by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s younger siblings – sister Wei Ling and brother Hsien Yang – who have accused the prime minister of abusing his powers in obtaining the Deed, which was signed between the siblings and the NHB.
In a Facebook post last month, Hsien Yang asked if PM Lee had received the deed in a public or private capacity, implying that it would be an “abuse of authority” if the former had received it as prime minister and then used it to “fight personal legal battles with family”.
Wong, who was Minister of Culture, Community and Youth at the time the Deed was signed on 8 June 2015, reiterated on Monday that he had shown the Deed to PM Lee in the latter’s capacity as prime minister, adding that the Deed “did not have a confidentiality clause”.
“If Mr Lee Hsien Loong had asked for the Deed of Gift in his private capacity, NHB would have been entitled to give it to him given his position as eldest son and beneficiary of the estate,” Wong added. PM Lee also addressed the issue in his Ministerial Statement earlier in the session.
Hsien Yang’s wife supported Deed’s ‘unusual’ conditions
Hsien Yang and Wei Ling – as executors of the late Lee Kuan Yew’s estate – had signed a Deed of Gift agreeing to hand over certain artefacts from the late Lee’s 38 Oxley Road home to the NHB for an exhibition to be held on Singapore’s founding leaders. A Deed of Gift is a legal agreement to transfer ownership of possessions with no monetary transaction.
According to Wong, the agreement came with “several unusual conditions”, which included the right to buy back the items at $1 so long as the house was not demolished, and the display of the wish of the late Lee to demolish the house.
This second condition involved the display of only a portion of the demolition clause, and left out the part which detailed the late Lee’s wish should the house not be demolished, said Wong.
He also noted that Hsien Yang’s wife Lee Suet Fern, who was a director on the NHB board at the time, was also involved in the discussions between the Lee estate’s executors and the NHB.
“She supported the conditions stipulated by the executors in the deed, and her law firm Morgan Lewis Stamford LLC helped in the process of finalising the Deed,” said Wong.
Questions raised over Deed’s validity
In spite of the conditions, the NHB went ahead with signing the Deed. However, when Wong showed the Deed to PM Lee on 12 June 2015, the latter responded saying that he found the terms “onerous to NHB”.
“He (PM Lee) told me that as a beneficiary of the estate, his consent for the donation had not been sought. The executors had not informed him of the donation, nor the terms of the donation,” said Wong of PM Lee’s reaction.
“So NHB was caught in a difficult position. It had signed the deed and accepted the gifts. But it was not clear if the executors were properly empowered to enter into the deed without first consulting all beneficiaries,” Wong added.
“This also raises questions about the validity of the agreement.”
Wong explained that when it comes to such donations, the NHB will take steps to ensure that there is “agreement from beneficiaries”. “Otherwise, it could face a potential claim from a beneficiary whose consent was not given,” he said.
Elsewhere in his speech, Wong also elaborated on the due process that applies to the conservation and preservation of properties. He noted that the NHB, Ministry of National Development and Urban Redevelopment Authority had all been working on the issue even prior to the formation of the ministerial committee to decide on the house’s fate.