Lee Kuan Yew's lawyer Kwa Kim Li testifies in libel suit involving TOC's Terry Xu

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(PHOTOS: Changi Airport Group / Yahoo News Singapore)
(PHOTOS L to R: Kwa Kim Li – Changi Airport Group/ Terry Xu – Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — The late Lee Kuan Yew’s lawyer Kwa Kim Li appeared in court on Thursday (3 December) to testify in the libel suit involving Terry Xu after failing to set aside a subpoena filed by the chief editor of The Online Citizen.

Kwa’s attendance in court was her first public appearance since the start of the 38 Oxley Road saga. On 14 June 2017, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Lee Hsien Yang, made several allegations against their brother in a Facebook post, including accusing him of misleading their father into believing that his Oxley Road property had been gazetted.

Kwa is Managing Partner of Lee and Lee, which was founded in 1955 by the late Lee. Between 20 August 2011 and 2 November 2012, the niece of the late Lee had prepared six of the late Lee’s wills.

PM Lee later filed a defamation suit against Xu over the allegations made by his siblings. Xu repeated the allegations on 15 August last year, in an article published on TOC titled “PM Lee’s wife, Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members”.

As part of the allegations, Xu claimed Dr Lee said that her brother had persuaded the late Lee into thinking his property at 38 Oxley Road had been gazetted, leading their father into thinking that it was “futile” to keep the demolition clause in his will.

Wearing a green cheongsam in court, Kwa answered questions put to her by Xu’s lawyer, Lim Tean.

Most of these questions referred to dates of emails exchanged between Kwa and the late Lee, and two letters which she had sent to his children about his will. At times, Kwa invoked the solicitor-client privilege in response to Lim’s questions.

Lim asked Kwa to confirm that all the wills she had prepared for the late Lee contained a demolition clause in respect of 38 Oxley Road, except for the final two wills she prepared for him dated 20 September 2012 and 4 October 2012. Kwa replied “yes”.

He then turned to an email on 6 September 2012 that the late Lee had sent to Kwa and Dr Lee, pointing out handwritten notes in the document stating, “I can’t find gazette. Told him”.

Asked by Lim if the handwritten notes were hers, Kwa confirmed and clarified that the “him” in the notes referred to the late Lee.

Lim asked when Kwa had searched for the gazette, and Kwa replied around September 2012. She added that she could not remember if it was before or after the email.

Lim asked, “In total, how many times did you search for whether 38 Oxley Road was gazetted and when did these searches take place?”

Kwa replied, “First time was around time of the email, I asked for my librarian to check for me. Second time I checked, I searched, it was perhaps a few days after I asked one of my colleagues, one of my lawyers, to check for me.”

When probed again on the number of times Kwa made the search, she said she could not remember but at least twice.

Lim then asked Kwa if she had informed the late Lee every time she conducted the search, Kwa said, “The answer would be privileged.”

She gave the same answer when asked about an email she sent to the late Lee on 2 October 2012, in which she apparently wrote, “Loong has free rein”.

Lim asked, “And the words ‘he can handle cabinet’, is that also reference to Lee Hsien Loong?” Kwa replied, “The answer would be privileged”.

At Justice Audrey Lim’s probing, Kwa said that “he” referred to the prime minister.

Xu’s lawyer then confirmed with Kwa that she had again written notes on an email dated 16 October 2012 from the late Lee to herself, stating “I can’t find Oxley gazette”.

Lim asked, “Am I correct to say that around this time when you wrote this email to (the late Lee) on 16 October 2012 you had checked for the gazette again?”. Kwa replied she could not remember.

The judge then interjected to ask if Kwa meant she could not find a document that showed 38 Oxley Road had been gazetted, to which Kwa said yes.

During Lim’s questioning, it emerged that Kwa had sent a letter to the late Lee’s children on 4 June 2015 and 22 June 2015, detailing instructions from their father and attaching other related documents.

After Lim finished his examination of Kwa, PM Lee’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, said he had no questions for the witness. The day’s proceedings lasted just half an hour.

With the end of the trial, both parties are expected to send written submissions to the court in January.

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