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FILE PHOTO: Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks at a special sitting of parliament in Singapore July 3, 2017. Parliament House of Singapore/Handout via REUTERS(reuters_tickers)
By Fathin Ungku
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The siblings of Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong
welcomed on Thursday moves to settle a row over their late father's house privately, but also said any unresolved dispute over his will should be thrashed out in court. Singaporeans have been riveted since mid-June by a public battle between the heirs of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's long-serving first prime minister, over whether to demolish the old family home or let the government decide whether it should become a heritage site.
Lee Kuan Yew's daughter, Lee Wei Ling, and his youngest son, Lee Hsien Yang, insist that the house should be demolished in accordance with their father's will. Prime Minister Lee has said the government must decide what to do with the property.
The siblings had accused their elder brother of abusing his powers, prompting the prime minister to call an extraordinary special sitting of parliament on Monday and Tuesday to "clear the air" over an issue that some people say has tarnished Singapore's image.
The premier said that debate failed to find any substantiated evidence of abuse of power, but he wanted to avoid taking his siblings to court for defamation.
Responding in a seven-page statement posted on Facebook, Hsien Yang and Wei Ling described the parliamentary debate as a "whitewash" and said they had more evidence of abuse of power that they would only divulge if there was an independent investigation.
However, they also reacted positively to the prime minister saying that he wanted to settle the matter privately.
"We therefore welcome Hsien Loong’s stated desire on 4 July 2017 to manage his disagreement with us in private ... without the involvement of lawyers or government agencies," they said in the statement.
They also repeated allegations of abuse of power in a separate 10-page document titled "Evidence", without making any fresh revelations.
"It seems that releasing further evidence on social media at this time will only muddy the facts," they said, and that there was "much evidence" they had not made public.
"We reserve this to show to a truly open and independent investigation, if there ever is one," they said.
Before his death in 2015, Lee Kuan Yew had made public his desire for the humbly furnished home at 38 Oxley Road, near the bustling Orchard Road shopping district, to be demolished rather than turned into some kind of museum.
He stated that in his last will, but the prime minister has said there were "deeply troubling circumstances" over how the document was drawn up.
The prime minister's siblings said in their latest Facebook posting that any dispute over the will should be resolved in court if it could not be settled otherwise.
Prime Minister Lee has said that, while he personally favoured the house being demolished, it was up to the government to decide whether it should become a heritage site.
He maintains that his father was aware that the government might make that decision, and was prepared to consider alternatives if the government decided the site should be preserved in any way.
The siblings dispute that account.
"Were our father alive today, he would be furious about this situation. His wishes are crystal clear: He wanted to demolish the house because he knew it was the right thing for Singapore," they said in their latest statement.
"He did not want Singaporeans to create a cult around him."
The prime minister has recused himself from a committee looking at options for the house, but his siblings say the committee is made up of subordinates who cannot be impartial.
"If Hsien Loong wishes to challenge the will, the
correct forum was and is the courts," they said.
Prime Minister Lee was in Germany on Thursday for a meeting of the G20 countries.
(Reporting by Fathin Ungku; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Paul Tait)