SINGAPORE (Reuters) - A public rift between the heirs of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first and longest-serving prime minister, has rocked the wealthy city-state, regarded as an island of stability in Southeast Asia.
The dispute revolves around what to do with their late father’s house at 38 Oxley Road - demolish it, or let the government decide whether to make it a heritage landmark.
On one side stands the eldest son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who believes the government must decide.
On the other stand his siblings - Lee Kuan Yew’s daughter, Lee Wei Ling, his youngest son, Lee Hsien Yang. They insist the house should be demolished in accordance with their father’s wishes.
Though Lee Kuan Yew died in 2015, the depth of the bad blood between his children only became fully known in June, when Hsien Yang and Wei Ling posted an explosive statement on Facebook.
They said they had lost confidence in their elder brother, accused him of abusing his power, and said they feared the “organs of the state” could be used against them.
Hsien Yang and his wife have said they are planning to leave Singapore as they have been made hugely unwelcome.
Prime Minister Lee, who has run the government for 13 years, called for a parliamentary debate on July 3-4.
The debate, he said, unearthed no evidence to substantiate any abuse of power. He also said he had no wish to sue his siblings for defamation.
On July 6, the siblings responded by welcoming Lee’s desire to settle the matter privately, while saying if there was any challenge to their father’s will it should be made in court. They said they had more evidence of abuse of power but would only divulge it if an independent investigation was made.
Lee Kuan Yew, popularly known as LKY, moved into the five-bedroom house in 1945.
He led the country for three decades and it was in his home that the People’s Action Party, which has governed since independence, was conceived.
A government committee, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, has been considering whether the property should be designated a heritage site.
Realtors estimate the plot is worth about S$24 million ($17 million).
The family insists the feud is not about the money.
The younger brother, Hsien Yang, owns the house and his unmarried sister, Wei Ling, lives there. Nothing can happen to the house until she chooses to move out.
Prime Minister Lee says his father bequeathed the property to him, and he later sold it Hsien Yang at a fair market valuation. The proceeds were donated to charity.
LKY stated publicly that he wanted the house to be demolished.
He also said so in his will, but added that if that could not happen, then he wanted it closed to anyone except family and descendants.
WHAT DO THE PRIME MINISTER‘S SIBLINGS SAY?
They insist it should be demolished.
Their accusation that the prime minister abused his powers primarily revolves around empowering a committee made up of subordinates to make recommendations on what is to be done with the property.
Lee recused himself from all government decisions regarding the house. He has said that personally he would like his father’s wishes to be observed, but the decision should rest with the government.
He says his father was prepared to consider alternatives for the property if the government decided to gazette the site.
Lee has also voiced concern over the will, questioning the role played by his sister-in-law’s legal firm.
In all probability it will take its time, given that Wei Ling could continue living in the house for several decades.
Teo told parliament on July 3 that “with the passage of time I hope that we will be able to arrive at a wise decision”.
Writing by Aradhana Aravindan and Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Robert Birsel