Morgan, Lewis & Bockius Singapore partner Suet-Fern Lee is facing questioning for potential professional misconduct during a high-profile family dispute involving Singapore’s late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
On Monday, the Singaporean Attorney-General’s Chambers released a statement indicating that it has referred a case to the Law Society of Singapore involving possible professional misconduct involving Suet-Fern Lee’s alleged participation in drafting a will for the late Lee Kuan Yew in 2013.
The AGC’s statement alleged that Suet-Fern Lee had prepared the last will for the late prime minister, despite the fact that her husband, Lee Hsien Yang, is one of the beneficiaries named in the will. The act could be in breach of the nation’s Legal Profession (Professional Conduct) Rules, which bar lawyers from advising individuals who intend to make “a significant gift” to the lawyer or their immediate family members.
This is the latest development in a high-profile family feud among children of the late Lee. The dispute, which largely centered around an old family house of Lee Kuan Yew, first erupted in 2017 and resulted in Suet-Fern Lee stepping down from her post as managing partner of Morgan Lewis’ Singapore office.
In a Facebook post written by Lee Hsien Yang and sister Lee Wei Ling in 2017, the siblings accused their elder brother, current Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, of abusing his power and said that they “fear the use of the organs of state” against them and Hsien Yang’s wife, Suet-Fern.
The AGC’s claim that Suet-Fern Lee was involved in the preparation of the will was disputed. Lee’s involvement in the drafting of the will, along with her then-firm, the firm Stamford Law Corp., was first made public in 2017 via a statement released by prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, giving his account of what led to his father’s signing of the will.
But Lee Hsien Yang, the prime minister’s younger brother and Suet-Fern’s husband, denied his wife and her firm’s involvement and insisted the will was drafted by the late Lee’s personal lawyer Kwa Kim Li. Kwa told the newspaper The Straits Times in 2017 that she did not prepare the last will. Kwa is managing partner of Singapore law firm Lee & Lee, which was co-founded by the late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, his wife Kwa Geok Choo, and his brother. Kwa Kim Li is a niece of Kwa Geok Choo.
Suet-Fern Lee’s alleged involvement in the will dispute took place before the 2015 merger of Stamford Law and Morgan Lewis. After stepping down as Singapore managing partner, Lee continues to sit on Morgan Lewis’ board and chairs the firm’s international leadership team. Partner Joo Khin Ng took over as Singapore managing partner.
The Singapore attorney general, Lucien Wong, has recused himself, according to the statement. Wong previously served as a personal lawyer to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on this matter. Deputy Attorney General Lionel Yee has been overseeing the matter.
The AGC said since October 2018, it has written several times to Suet-Fern Lee, requesting that she explain her role in the will preparation. “Ms. Lee was also assured that if she had good explanations for her conduct, then the matter will end,” the AGC wrote. “However, despite asking for extensions of time to respond, Ms. Lee did not answer the questions that AGC had asked.”
The AGC said it had referred the case to the Law Society of Singapore, which is the enforcement body for professional conduct and disciplinary matters for all Singapore-qualified lawyers. Deputy Attorney-General Yee has also requested the chief justice of Singapore, Sundaresh Menon, appoint a Disciplinary Tribunal to look into the case.
Singapore Law Society president Gregory Vijayendran did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A Washington, D.C.-based spokesperson for Morgan Lewis said the firm believes it is inappropriate to comment on a matter that has been referred to the Law Society and involves a personal situation that long predated Lee’s joining of the firm in April 2015.
“Ms. Lee is and has been for decades a highly rated and honored lawyer in the Singapore and global legal communities, and she is a valued partner at our firm,” the firm spokesperson said.