Singapore PM denies nepotism amid family feud in parliament speech

By AFP/Elizabeth Law   July 3, 2017 | 02:20 am PT
Singapore PM denies nepotism amid family feud in parliament speech
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks at a special sitting of parliament in Singapore July 3, 2017. Photo by Parliament House of Singapore/Handout via Reuters
'Their allegations are entirely baseless,' said PM Lee.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday rejected claims from his siblings that he abused power and engaged in nepotism as he faced parliament over a family feud that has shocked Singapore.

But the leader said he will not sue his brother and sister for their online attacks over the legacy of their father Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding leader. The city-state is tightly controlled and has long been used to censorship and libel suits against critics of the family.

"Their allegations are entirely baseless," Lee, 65, told a regularly scheduled session of parliament.

His sister Wei Ling, 62, and brother Hsien Yang, 60, had accused the premier of exploiting their father's legacy for his own political agenda, and seeking to groom his son Li Hongyi, now a senior public servant involved in government data services, to one day become leader of the city-state.

The row -- which erupted into the open last month -- is an escalation of a dispute over what to do with a family bungalow that has simmered since the 2015 death of the elder Lee, who ruled Singapore with an iron hand but transformed the city-state into one of the world's wealthiest societies.

The prime minister called for an open debate in parliament after the attacks on Facebook against him and his wife Ho Ching, who is chief executive of state investment fund Temasek Holdings.

He apologized for a second time over the quarrel and rejected charges of nepotism. He said the head of Temasek is appointed by its board subject to confirmation by the president of Singapore, and that his son has already said he was not interested in politics.

The allegations "have already damaged Singapore's reputation," he told parliament.

"Unrebutted, they can affect Singaporeans' confidence in the government."

Singaporeans 'tired' of family dispute

Lee said Singaporeans were "tired of the subject, and wish it would end."

However he added that he would not sue his siblings because a lawsuit might drag on for years and "further besmirch my parents' names".

At the centre of the fight is the century-old bungalow which the patriarch wanted destroyed after he passed away to prevent the creation of a personality cult.

The siblings said the prime minister is attempting to block its demolition to capitalize on their father's legacy, including grooming his own son to be a third-generation leader -- a charge Lee and his wife have denied.

The Lees are the closest thing Singapore has to royalty, dominating the now wealthy island's politics for nearly six decades.

The prime minister said that despite a "demolition clause" governing the house in his final will, his father was "prepared to consider alternatives" and even approved renovation plans should the government decide against tearing it down.

He said he was not behind the creation of a ministerial committee led by his deputy Teo Chee Hean to explore various options for the house, which hosted many of the early meetings of the People's Action Party which has governed Singapore since 1959.

Lee Kuan Yew served as prime minister from 1959 to 1990, and the current leader has been in power since 2004. The city-state has had only one other prime minister, Goh Chok Tong.

The row focuses on a clause in Lee's final will which stated that the old family home should be demolished after his death or after his daughter, who is unmarried, moves out.

Lee Kuan Yew feared the house would become a monument, with strangers walking through the family's private quarters.

The sparsely furnished five-bedroom house in Oxley Road was built in the late 19th century in what used to be a plantation district, and gained value as Singapore became urbanized and prosperous.

The land, located off the posh Orchard Road shopping belt, is estimated by property agents to be worth SGD24 million ($17.5 million).

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