Singapore

Future of Oxley Road house under study

Ministerial committee reviewing options for property at centre of Lee siblings' dispute

The future of the house at the centre of a dispute between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings is being studied by a ministerial committee.

The existence of the committee was disclosed yesterday by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling, the PM's younger siblings. In a Facebook statement, both said they were told by National Development Minister Lawrence Wong last July that "a ministerial committee had been set up to consider options with respect to 38, Oxley Road and their implications".

The pre-war house in Oxley Road had been the home of founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew since the 1940s.

He died in March 2015 at the age of 91.

Cabinet Secretary Tan Kee Yong, who confirmed the establishment of the committee in a separate statement yesterday, said it was set up to consider options for the house and the implications of those options.

"These included looking into various aspects, including the historical and heritage significance of the house, as well as to consider Mr Lee Kuan Yew's thinking and wishes in relation to the house," Mr Tan said in the statement.

He also said the committee has been looking at how the late Mr Lee's will came to be made and the roles played in this by Mrs Lee Suet Fern - Mr Lee Hsien Yang's wife - and the law firm that she heads.

The Prime Minister has not been involved in Cabinet’s discussions concerning this committee. As he had previously stated, he has recused himself from all government decisions concerning the house. Cabinet Secretary Tan Kee Yong

The statement from the Cabinet Secretary was issued in response to claims by Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee in their statement that PM Lee made "extensive representations" to the committee and that he is in "a direct position of power over the committee" because the ministers in the committee report to him.

Said Mr Tan: "The Prime Minister has not been involved in Cabinet's discussions concerning this committee.

"As he had previously stated, he has recused himself from all government decisions concerning the house."

He said the committee had sought the views of the Prime Minister, as well as those of his siblings, "to ask if they wished to say anything about the late Mr Lee's thinking in respect of the house, beyond what has already been stated in public".

"Mr Lee Hsien Loong's views were sought in his personal capacity, given his position as Mr Lee Kuan Yew's eldest son and his interest as a beneficiary of the estate," Mr Tan noted.

In the statement, Mr Tan also refuted Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee's claims that setting up the committee contradicted PM Lee's statement in Parliament in April 2015, in which he said there was no need for the Government to decide the fate of the house until Dr Lee stops living there.

PM Lee had said in Parliament: "At that point, speaking as a son, I would like to see these wishes carried out. However, it will be up to the Government of the day to consider the matter."

Mr Tan said the committee's work "will help a future government when a decision needs to be taken about the house".

He added that it also "made clear" to Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee that the Government has no intention of doing anything with the house as long as Dr Lee lives there.

Mr Lee made it public, before he died, that he wanted his house demolished. But after his death, there were public calls to preserve the house and turn it into a museum or memorial.

Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee subsequently issued a statement as executors and trustees of their father's last will, outlining their father's wishes regarding the house as long as Dr Lee lives there.

Mr Tan, in his statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office, also said the committee received representations from PM Lee on various facts and circumstances in relation to how Mr Lee Kuan Yew's last will was prepared.

He said the committee asked Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang further questions about how the will was prepared, and the role that Mrs Lee Suet Fern and lawyers from her legal firm played in preparing it.

Mr Tan said the committee had also invited Dr Lee and Mr Lee Hsien Yang to put their response by way of a statutory declaration, as PM Lee had done. They have not responded to date, and have indicated that if they respond at all, it will be by the end of this month at the earliest, he said.

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