Lee Hsien Yang and wife’s names disclosed while being investigated as they absconded: K Shanmugam
The Home Affairs and Law Minister was replying to parliamentary questions on why Lee Hsien Yang and his wife Lee Suet Fern were named while under investigation.
SINGAPORE: Mr Lee Hsien Yang and his wife Lee Suet Fern have “essentially absconded” from Singapore, and that is one of the reasons their names were disclosed to the public while investigations are ongoing, Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam said on Monday (Mar 20) in response to parliamentary questions.
Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leong Mun Wai (PSP) had asked why the names of the couple were disclosed while being investigated for giving false evidence in judicial proceedings, when the names of the six former management staff of Keppel Offshore & Marine Limited were not.
Mr Leon Perera (WP-Aljunied) asked under what circumstances law enforcement agencies divulge the names of individuals who are associated with an ongoing investigation, or details of the investigation, before it is completed.
Mr Shanmugam told the House that the general principle is that law enforcement agencies do not disclose the names of individuals who have been, or are being investigated, but there are exceptions.
One example is where the offender has absconded or left the jurisdiction while investigations are ongoing. A second would be where the facts of the case and the individuals who may have committed the alleged offences are already publicly known.
Thirdly, the names may be made public if there is some public interest in disclosing that investigations are underway.
“Such disclosure has to be weighed against possible prejudice to the individuals concerned,” said Mr Shanmugam.
But this does not mean that police will automatically publish the names of the individuals under investigations, if their names had been made public in other earlier proceedings, Mr Shanmugam added. The authorities will have to take into account many other factors.
Giving several examples where names were publicised, Mr Shanmugam said that police released the details of Pi Jiapeng and Pansuk Siriwipa while investigations were ongoing.
The couple was involved in a series of alleged cheating cases involving luxury goods, and had fled Singapore in 2022. They were arrested in Johor Bahru by Malaysian police in August last year and handed over to Singapore authorities.
Mr Shanmugam said he had also disclosed in Parliament that the police had started investigations against Karl Liew for lying under oath, when the House debated the Parti Liyani case in 2020.
The minister said that in that case, MPs were discussing Liew’s conduct, the conduct of his family members, and the court’s findings so authorities thought it necessary to disclose that Mr Karl Liew was being investigated. He added that Liew cooperated with the investigation, and has since been charged.
“As can be seen, there are a wide variety of situations where it may become necessary to make public the fact that a person is under investigation, or has been arrested, or is assisting in investigations,” he said.
“We have to assess the facts and the public interest involved.”
CASE OF THE LEES
Mr Shanmugam said that the situation with the Lee couple was similar to Liew’s case, “with the added fact that they have also absconded”.
In the case of the Lees, the discussions surrounding Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s home, No 38 Oxley Rd, are of significant public interest, said Mr Shanmugam. Both the Disciplinary Tribunal and the Court of Three Judges found that Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern had lied under oath, and these are matters of public record.
“The Disciplinary Tribunal in essence said that Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern had combined to mislead and cheat the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew,” he said.
In 2020, Mrs Lee was suspended from practice by the Court of Three Judges for 15 months after she was found guilty of misconduct over the handling of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s last will.
Police investigations were started based on these earlier findings, but the police did not make public at that time, in October 2021, that the couple was being investigated, he added.
The details were shared by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean in a written parliamentary answer on Mar 2.
The question, filed by Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim (PAP-Chua Chu Kang), was about an e-book titled The Battle Over Lee Kuan Yew's Last Will and the accuracy of the events presented in the book.
Mr Shanmugam said that the parliamentary question posed required discussing the accuracy of those public statements, and “the honesty or otherwise” of Lee Hsien Yang and Lee Suet Fern.
And it was also “relevant and necessary” to disclose that there are ongoing police investigations to give an accurate and full answer, he added.
“To summarise, the Disciplinary Tribunal and the Court of Three Judges had said Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern were lying. They had been found to be dishonest, and more. All of that is public. They have also essentially absconded from jurisdiction," he said.
"We take this seriously. And those facts were disclosed, so that this House can have a full and complete picture, when a question had been asked which related to their conduct."
He added that if government agencies are not able to prosecute the individual based on earlier court findings, if substantial new facts have to be proven and relevant evidence or witnesses are not available, then arguments can be made for and against disclosure.
PREJUDICE WAS "MARGINAL"
Mr Shanmugam explained that the case of Keppel Offshore & Marine Limited does not fall within the different exceptions and examples he had set out.
He said that the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) had “turned all the stones it could”, but concluded that it could not sustain any charges in court.
The conduct had taken place overseas, and key witnesses and documents are not available, Mr Shanmugam said.
“We got some information from Brazil, but it was not adequate to mount any criminal charge,” he said. “There were no admissions which could be relied upon to cross the evidentiary requirements.”
The minister said that in these circumstances, the general policy of not disclosing the names of individuals who have been under investigation applies. He challenged any MPs who disagreed with this general principle to raise their reasons and debate the issue with him.
In his parliamentary question, and in a supplementary question during Parliament, Mr Perera also asked what measures are taken to ensure that public disclosure does not prejudice the investigation in cases where such information is publicly divulged.
Mr Shanmugam acknowledged that if the investigations show that the named person is innocent, or an assessment is made that his guilt cannot be established in court, “a cloud would have hung over him” until his name was cleared. This is why names are generally not disclosed.
But in the case of Karl Liew, the prejudice to him in disclosing that he was under investigation for lying under oath was "marginal" and had to be weighed against the public interest at stake. And the same applied to the Lees, he said.
“The statements in Parliament do not materially add to any cloud the couple may already be under, based on what the Disciplinary Tribunal and the Court of Three Judges have said,” Mr Shanmugam said.
He added: "The investigation relates back to that very point on which the courts have taken a view - as to whether they lied, didn't lie: That is why I said the prejudice is very marginal, if any."
Mr Shanmugam also mentioned another case under investigation where the highest court had made observations that a couple of people had lied on oath.
“If there is a relevant question or issue about that matter, I can see that we will also set out the facts and say that police are investigating,” he said.
“But just like with Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern initially, when investigations had first commenced, police had not volunteered the information. But police will respond with the facts if there is a need to, for example, if questions are raised in Parliament.”
After the reply was delivered, Mr Leong asked further questions, noting that the Keppel Marine and Offshore case is also a matter of public interest.
“So why is there a double standard?” he asked.
Mr Shanmugam said he had already explained the difference between the cases and asked Mr Leong to point out the part of the explanation he disagrees with before alleging “double standards”.
“I have set out what the differences are. Tell me which part you don’t understand or you disagree with,” he said.
Mr Shanmugam also pointed out that Mr Leong had not raised objections when Karl Liew’s name was disclosed in the House in 2020.
“Why this extraordinary interest suddenly about the Lees that he didn’t show for Mr Liew? Perhaps he can explain why his approach shows double standards,” said the minister.
NCMP Hazel Poa (PSP) asked Mr Shanmugam to clarify the situation in relation to the timing of the earlier parliamentary question and reply, after pointing out there is “much chatter” that it was delivered around the time of Lee Hsien Yang’s interview with Bloomberg in which he said that he was considering running for president.
Mr Shanmugam asked Ms Poa if she was supporting the "chatter" and if not, to withdraw that part of the question, as Parliament generally does not address rumours.
Ms Poa then withdrew the whole question, after which Mr Shanmugam said he would answer the remainder of the question anyway.
He said: “My recollection is that the Bloomberg interview came after the answer given by Senior Minister Teo and therefore even the prescience of this government could not have foretold that Mr Lee Hsien Yang was going to give such an interview. I stand corrected but that's my recollection of the sequence of events.”
WHY NO INTERVIEW ORDER WAS ISSUED
Late on Monday night, the Singapore Police Force also clarified why it did not issue an order under the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) to interview Mr and Mrs Lee.
The police said they would first contact the person to be interviewed whether by telephone, email, letter or in person.
Only if a person is assessed to be likely to be uncooperative, then an written order under the CPC may be issued to request attendance, a police spokesperson added.
The police then recapped the timeline of events with the couple, starting from June 9, 2022 when they met with Mr and Mrs Lee to request that they attend an interview over potential offences of giving false evidence.
A letter with information about the investigation - and a request to attend an interview - was also given to the couple. "The couple was cooperative and agreed to be interviewed. They said that they would confirm the exact date of the interview subsequently," said the police.
On Jun 13, 2022, the couple confirmed their availability for an interview on Jul 13, 2022. But when the interview date arrived, they emailed the police saying they would not attend, and "indeed did not turn up", said the authority.
"In this case, since the couple appeared cooperative when first engaged by the police, and had agreed to be interviewed, the police did not issue an order under the CPC. This is consistent with how police deal with cases of a similar nature," the spokesperson added.
"The couple left the country on Jun 15, and have now made clear that they will not agree to be interviewed."
Min, C. H. (2023, March 21). Lee Hsien Yang and wife’s names disclosed while being investigated as they absconded: K Shanmugam. CNA. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/parliament-lee-hsien-yang-lee-suet-fern-absconded-38-oxley-road-3359476