The dispute among the descendants of the late Lee Kuan Yew escalated on Wednesday morning (14 June) when Lee Hsien Yang, 60, and Lee Wei Ling, 62, issued a statement denouncing their eldest brother, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
At the centre of their feud: the fate of the house at 38 Oxley Road, the former residence of their late father, who was Singapore’s first prime minister from 1959 to 1990. Hsien Yang and Wei Ling accused PM Lee, 65, of pursuing a personal agenda with regard to the house. Hsien Yang is currently chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), while Wei Ling is former director of the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI).
PM Lee, who is currently on overseas leave, quickly issued a flat denial of their allegations. He also expressed disappointment that his siblings had chosen to make private family matters public and said he would consider the matter further upon his return.
The feud among the three had been building up after their father passed away on 23 March, 2015. Besides the Oxley Road residence, Hsien Yang and Wei Ling are also in dispute with the government over the use of oral transcripts of interviews conducted with the late Lee by the Oral History Department in the 1980s.
Here is a timeline of events:
4 December, 2015: The three Lee siblings post a joint statement on Facebook stating that their father’s wish to have the Oxley Road residence demolished should be respected. PM Lee recuses himself from all government decisions concerning the house. A YouGov poll released later that month shows that a majority of Singaporeans agree the house should be demolished.
25 March, 2016: Wei Ling pens a Facebook note criticising the elaborate commemoration of Lee Kuan Yew’s one-year death anniversary, saying that her father would have opposed it. She cautioned that “(any) veneration could have the opposite effect and lead future generations of Singaporeans to think that my father’s actions were motivated by his desire for fame, or creation of a dynasty”.
10 April, 2016: Amid a dispute with Singapore Press Holdings over the alleged censorship of her articles for The Straits Times, Wei Ling posts an email exchange with an editor where she called PM Lee a “dishonourable son” and claimed that he was “abusing his power”. PM Lee flatly denies her allegations and says he is “deeply saddened” by his sister’s actions.
29 September, 2016: The High Court dismisses an application by Lee Kuan Yew’s estate – overseen by Hsien Yang and Wei Ling – which claims that it is entitled to use and own copies of the late Lee’s oral history transcripts from the early 1980s. The transcripts had been discovered at the Oxley Road residence.
11 April, 2017: The Court of Appeal reserves judgement on the appeal made by Lee Kuan Yew’s estate against the High Court’s earlier ruling. The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC), which is representing the government in the case, reiterated in the Court of Appeal that only limited rights to the transcripts had passed on to the estate after Lee Kuan Yew’s death.
14 June, 2017: Wei Ling and Hsien Yang issue a joint statement against PM Lee, alleging that they feel threatened by their brother’s pursuit of a personal agenda over the Oxley Road residence. PM Lee quickly issues a denial. Hsien Yang adds in the statement that he feels compelled to leave Singapore “for the foreseeable future”. He later tells the Financial Times, “I am not an anti-establishment, opposition figure. I have a long record of public service. It is heart wrenching for me to leave this country. It is not something I would do lightly.”
14 June, 2017: Hsien Yang’s son Li Shengwu, a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, says in a Facebook post, “In the last few years, my immediate family has become increasingly worried about the lack of checks on abuse of power. The situation is now such that my parents have made plans to relocate to another country, a painful decision that they have not made lightly.”
14 June, 2017: Hsien Yang’s wife Lee Suet Fern, 59, a corporate lawyer, tells The Straits Times that the couple are in the process of preparing to leave Singapore. She declines to provide details.