Oral Replies to Parliamentary Questions

Oral Reply to Parliamentary Questions on Considerations for Publicly Disclosing Names of Individuals Being Investigated

Published: 20 March 2023


Mr Leong Mun Wai:
To ask the Minister for Home Affairs why Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Ms Lim Suet Fern are named and 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 (KOM) were not publicly disclosed while they were being investigated.

Mr Leon Perera: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs (a) under what circumstances will law enforcement agencies divulge the names of individuals who are associated with an on-going investigation or details of the said investigation before it is completed; and (b) in cases where such information is publicly divulged, what measures are taken to ensure that the said public disclosure does not prejudice the investigation or the individuals concerned.


Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law:

1.   Mr Speaker, Sir, with your permission, I will also deal with the question that has been asked by Mr Leon Perera, which is scheduled for a subsequent sitting on the same topic.

2.   The general approach is that law enforcement agencies do not disclose the names of individuals who have been, or are being, investigated. This general principle is subject to exceptions. 

3.   One example when names have been disclosed is where the offender has absconded or left the jurisdiction while investigations are ongoing. 

4.   For example, Members may recall the case relating to Pi Jiapeng and Pansuk Siriwipa. The couple was involved in a series of alleged cheating cases involving luxury goods. They fled Singapore, last year, in 2022, while investigations were ongoing. The Police released their details. 

5.   A second example would be where the facts which constitute the alleged offences, and the individuals who may have committed the alleged offences, are already publicly known. For example, as a result of findings made by our courts, and there is some public interest in disclosing that investigations are underway. Such disclosure has to be weighed against possible prejudice to the individuals concerned. 

6.   A case in point would be where, following the judgment of the High Court in the Parti Liyani case in 2020, the Police commenced investigations against Ms Liyani's employer’s son, Karl Liew, based on the High Court’s observations that he had given dishonest evidence under oath. I informed this House of those investigations, during the debates relating to the case. 

7.   However, 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.

8.   The context in which the names had been published in the other proceedings; the nature of those proceedings; the nature of the offences being investigated; the connection of the offences under investigations to the original proceedings; as well as whether the agencies have taken the view that subsequent criminal proceedings are or are not, possible - All of these are relevant. 

9.   An assessment of all the facts and the context has to be made, in considering the public interest, as to whether to disclose the names.

10.   Yet another type of example, where names have been published, is the case of Chew Eng Han. He had been convicted of several offences. He was then arrested when attempting to flee Singapore. Police made public the arrest, on the day he and his accomplices were arrested, and their identities were released. After investigations, Chew and one accomplice were charged.

11.   A fourth example relates to Alex Yeung. Alex Yeung stated publicly that his passport had been impounded, in respect of some conduct. Police then issued a media statement, explaining that Yeung was assisting the Police, but had not been arrested.

12.   A fifth example would be where Police are investigating a case and there is a lot of misinformation. Police might then make public the accurate facts, relating to the case, to dispel the falsehoods - and we have done that in the past. 

13.   As can be seen, there are a wide variety of situations, when it may become necessary to make public the fact that a person is under investigation, or has been arrested, or is assisting in investigations.  

14.   We have to assess the facts and the public interest involved. 

15.   The circumstances relating to Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern straddle the first two examples that I mentioned.

16.   The discussions surrounding No. 38 Oxley Road are of significant public interest. One might say they are of at least as much interest as in the case of Parti Liyani – if the two can even be compared. 

17.   The Oxley Road matter was debated extensively in this House, following Ministerial Statements on the subject. 

18.   The findings by the Disciplinary Tribunal and the Court of Three Judges, in the disciplinary proceedings against Mrs Lee Suet Fern, and their findings on Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern, are matters of public record. 

19.   Both the Disciplinary Tribunal and the Court of Three Judges found that Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern had lied under oath. And let me remind Members of what both tribunals said. 

20.   The Court of Three Judges said that Mrs Lee Suet Fern lied under oath, and I quote: 

(a)   [101]: “… [W]e agree with and affirm the DT’s [Disciplinary Tribunal’s] finding that Mr Lee Hsien Yang was not telling the truth when he said that he was the one who had forwarded the Draft Last Will to the Respondent. For the same reasons, we also agree with and affirm the DT’s finding that the Respondent’s evidence on this issue, which echoed Mr LHY's, was similarly untrue and to be rejected.

(b)   [103]: “The Respondent also claimed in her AEIC that after she received the Draft Last Will from Mr LHY, ... she did not even open it … [W]e agree with the DT that it is implausible and ultimately incredible.

(c)   [151]: “… [W]e note that after the disciplinary proceedings were initiated, the Respondent adopted the position, which the DT rejected and which we too have rejected as false…

(d)   [159(b)]: “… [T]he Respondent did act with a degree of dishonesty in the disciplinary proceedings ... ”

21.   Mr Lee Hsien Yang lied under oath: “… Mr LHY was not telling the truth ….” (at [101]). 

22.   If you go to what the Disciplinary Tribunal said at various parts:  

(a)   [617]: “In essence, an elaborate edifice of lies was presented, both on oath (through Mr LHY and the Respondent's Affidavits, and on the witness stand), and through their public and other statements, (which were referred to/relied upon during the Disciplinary Proceedings). The Affidavits were contrived to present a false picture. Several of the lies were quite blatant.

(b)   [588]: “Considered in totality, the Respondent’s conduct was quite dishonest. Mr LHY’s and her conduct, demonstrated a calculated attempt to:

i.   Ensure that Mr Lee executed the Last Will as quickly as possible, without due regard to Mr Lee’s wishes, and

ii.   Hide their wrongdoing in having done so.

(c)   [592]: “Having procured the Last Will through these improper means, she and Mr LHY then fabricated a series of lies and inaccuracies, to perpetuate the falsehood that Ms KKL (Kwa Kim Li) had been involved in the Last Will, and hide their own role in getting Mr Lee to sign the Last Will and their wrongdoings…

(d)   [610]: “Mr LHY and the Respondent tried to explain away their conduct ... Their explanations ranged from the improbable, to the patently contrived, to the downright dishonest.

(e)   [618]-[619]: “The Respondent was a deceitful witness ... Before us, she lied or became evasive whenever she thought it was to her benefit to lie or evade. Mr LHY’s conduct was equally deceitful. He lied to the public, he lied to the MC, and he lied to us ... He had no qualms about making up evidence as he went along. We found him to be cynical about telling the truth.

(f)   [233]-[234]: “ ... In plain language, the effect of what they said is this: Mr LHY may make untrue statements, in public and in private, whenever there is no legal penalty for telling untruths; his public and private statements cannot be relied upon to be accurate … We do not find their explanations credible."

(g)   [496]: “Mr LHY’s explanations for the untruths in his posts were not credible … Mr LHY knew the true facts. He admitted that some of his statements were inaccurate.”

(h)   [612(b)]: “Mr LHY lied to the public about how the Last Will was drafted. He admitted to us that some of his statements were inaccurate. He said his public statements could be inaccurate because they are not sworn statements, and thus he may not look at them carefully … That was dishonest.

23.   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. 

24.   Police investigations were commenced, based on the findings of the Disciplinary Tribunal and the Court of Three Judges. 

25.   Police did not make public, at that time in October 2021, that the couple was being investigated. 

26.   A Question was asked in this House earlier this month, about some public statements which had been made, relating to Oxley, and the judgments of the Disciplinary Tribunal, and the Court of Three Judges. Members can look up the Question and Answer. 

27.   The Question required discussing the accuracy of those public statements, in the context of the judgments of the Disciplinary Tribunal and the Court of Three Judges, and it required dealing with the honesty or otherwise of Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern. 

28.   That there were ongoing Police investigations, arising from the findings of the Tribunal and the Court of Three Judges, was in that context relevant and necessary to be disclosed, to give an accurate and full Answer.

29.   It was also necessary, to give a complete answer to mention that Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern had not cooperated with the Police investigations, after saying that they would. 

30.   The reasons for disclosing that Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern were under investigation, are broadly similar to the reasons why it was disclosed that Mr Karl Liew was being investigated for perjury. 

31.   Except that in the case of Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern, they have, in addition, absconded from jurisdiction. 

32.   In Mr Karl Liew’s case, we were discussing his conduct and the conduct of other family members, and the Court’s findings in this House. We thought it necessary to disclose in that context, that Mr Karl Liew was being investigated. He cooperated with the investigation, he has since been charged.

33.   Some Members may also recall that I had said in this House, when we were discussing the Parti Liyani case, that if any judgment or decision issued in the course of any legal proceedings contains findings that there may have been perjury or other serious offences, that is something that we will take seriously. We mean what we say. 

34.   I do not recall any Member expressing a different view - that such lying on oath, in court proceedings, should not be taken seriously. 

35.   That was the situation with Mr Karl Liew, and that is the situation with Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern, but as I said, with the added fact that they have also absconded. 

36.   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. 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. 

37.   If we cannot, or should not answer the question, in part or in full, then, we would have said so. 

38.   In deciding whether we make public that investigations are ongoing, one factor which is considered is prejudice to the person being investigated. 

39.   If the investigations show that the person is innocent, or an assessment is made that his guilt cannot be established in court, and if his name had been publicised earlier, a cloud would have hung over him, until he was cleared. 

40.   Thus, the general position is that names are not disclosed. 

41.   Whether names should be released in a particular situation, is a matter of judgment on what public interest requires. 

42.   The examples I gave earlier illustrate the exceptions, when names were made public. 

43.   For example, if you take the case of Mr Karl Liew, what is the prejudice to him? In Mr Karl Liew’s case, the High Court had taken the view that he was not telling the truth. The prejudice to him, in disclosing that he was under investigations for that finding of lying, is marginal if any - and has to be weighed against the public interest at stake, in disclosing the facts when the matter is being discussed in Parliament.

44.   The same applies to Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern. 

45.   Members who are not lawyers may not know this, but when a Disciplinary Tribunal says that a person is guilty, it can only do so if it is satisfied beyond reasonable doubt on the guilt - likewise for the Court of Three Judges in disciplinary proceedings. The statements in Parliament about Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern do not materially add to any cloud the couple may already be under, based on what the Tribunal and the Court of Three Judges had said. 

46.   If the facts are different, then the position will be different. 

47.   For example, say, a name had been published in other proceedings, and the court had made some findings, but if our agencies are not able to prosecute the individual based on the earlier court findings - because they assess that despite the earlier court findings, substantial new facts have to be proven, and that relevant evidence is not available and that relevant witnesses are not available, then there can be arguments both ways on disclosure. And an assessment has to be made on the specific facts, and a judgment has to be made. 

48.   But the cases of Mr Liew and the Lees are quite different; and as I have said, in the case of the Lees, they have also absconded.

49.   I can tell Members that there is another case where the highest court has made observations that a couple of persons had lied on oath. That matter is also being investigated. 

50.   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. But just like with Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern, initially, when investigations 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. 

51.   Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Mrs Lee Suet Fern will have every right to provide explanations on the matters being investigated, if they eventually decide to do the right thing and cooperate with the Police. 

52.   It is their choice whether they want to be fugitives from justice, or whether to come and explain why they say the Courts were wrong to say that they had lied.

53.   The case of Keppel Offshore & Marine Limited (KOM) is quite different. It does not fall within the different examples I have set out. 

54.   Members may not know this, but it was KOM which had made the CPIB Report. 

55.   The CPIB had conducted as thorough an investigation as it could, with the information and powers that it possessed. It turned all the stones it could and assessed the evidence together with AGC. They concluded that they could not sustain any charges in Court. The conduct had taken place overseas, key witnesses are not available, key documents are also not available. 

56.   We got some information from Brazil, but it was not adequate to mount any criminal charge. There were no admissions which could be relied upon to cross the evidentiary requirements. 

57.   The documents between the US Authorities and KOM, and the DPA, also do not meet the evidentiary requirements. They go some way, but they don’t cross the threshold in respect of those who were being investigated. 

58.   The CPIB, for good reasons, has the reputation for being able to ferret out the truth. But even the CPIB can’t get something out, or proceed with charges when there are no documents or other evidence which cross the evidential threshold, and which can be used to break down interviewees’ defences. 

59.   In these circumstances, the general policy of not disclosing the names of individuals who have been under investigation, applies.  

60.   However, if any Member feels that this general policy should be changed, and that law enforcement agencies should name all individuals who are being investigated, regardless of the circumstances, even if they are not abscondees from jurisdiction, and even if no charges are likely to be brought in the end, please let me know and we can debate that. 

61.   I would be very surprised if anyone says that. 

62.   If everyone agrees that persons under investigations should in general not be named, then the only question, is the circumstances under which, nevertheless, names will be disclosed. And I have explained some examples of when names have been disclosed. 

63.   The fact that no one raised any issues with Mr Liew being named, or when the names of other abscondees had been disclosed, shows that no one in this House took issue with the disclosure. 

64.   Thank you, Sir.