The Feud Involving Members of Singapore's First Family

By Reuters 29 July 2019

SINGAPORE—A public rift between the heirs of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first and longest-serving prime minister, has for years rumbled in 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 of the dispute stands the eldest son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 67, who believes the government must decide what should be done.

On the other are his siblings—Lee Kuan Yew’s daughter, Lee Wei Ling, and his youngest son, Lee Hsien Yang.

They say their father’s will stated the house should eventually be demolished after his death and they have accused Prime Minister Lee of wanting to preserve the house to build his own political capital.

“His popularity is inextricably linked to Lee Kuan Yew’s legacy,” they said in a 2017 statement.

PM Lee has said his father was prepared to consider alternatives for the property if the government decided to gazette the site and that he has recused himself from government discussions on the matter.

With an election due to be held in the coming years, the feud has recently entered the political arena.

Hsien Yang has publicly backed an opposition party saying the People’s Action Party, led by his brother and founded by his late father, has “lost its way.”

The house, more than just a home?

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 from his home that his People’s Action Party, which has governed since independence, was conceived.

A government panel set up to consider the future of the house, headed by then-Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, said in a 2018 report that a future government should make the final decision. It laid out three options: preserving the house as a national monument, preserving part of it, or demolishing it.

The historic property was valued by estate agents at about S$24 million ($17 million) in 2017.

The family insists the feud is not about the money.

Who owns it?

The house is owned by the younger brother, Hsien Yang, and his unmarried sister, Wei Ling, lives there. Nothing can happen to the house until she chooses to move out.

PM Lee says his father bequeathed the property to him, and he later sold it to Hsien Yang at a fair market valuation. The proceeds were donated to charity.

What did LKY want?

LKY, who died in 2015, stated publicly that he wanted the house to be demolished as he did not like the idea of tourists visiting it and that it would cost a lot to preserve.

He also said so in his will, but added that if that could not happen, then he wanted it closed to everyone, except family and descendants.

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