PM Lee sues prominent blogger Leong Sze Hian for defamation

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Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has reportedly commenced legal proceedings against prominent blogger and financial adviser Leong Sze Hian for defamation, after Mr Leong shared an article on his Facebook page that alleged that the head of government helped launder 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) funds.

The article, entitled “Breaking News: Singapore Lee Hsien Loong becomes 1MDB’s key investigation target – Najib signed several unfair…”, originated from Malaysian website The Coverage, which has since been geo-blocked in Singapore by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA).

The article was originally published on the now-defunct States Times Review website on 5 Nov. The article stated that PM Lee had entered into “secret deals” with ex-Malaysian PM Najib Razak to launder 1MDB funds. Singapore’s High Commission in Malaysia has deemed the article “fake news and clearly libellous”.

The IMDA reportedly served a letter of demand to Mr Leong asking him to take down the Facebook post from his wall. Mr Leong reportedly complied and removed the post that had received about 18 shares, on 10 Nov.

Two days later, on 12 Nov, PM Lee’s lawyers at Drew & Napier sent Mr Leong another letter of demand and asked him to make a public apology and compensate the Prime Minister for damages. PM Lee’s legal team, led by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, said in the letter:

“Those allegations are false and baseless and constitute a very serious libel against our client, and disparage and impugn his character, credit and integrity.” The PM’s lawyers added that it was clear that the post had been published “maliciously and to damage our client”.

According to the national broadsheet, court documents show that the offending words in the article “meant and were understood to mean that the Plaintiff corruptly used his position as Prime Minister to help Mr Najib Razak launder 1MDB’s billions,” while the offending words in Mr Leong’s own Facebook post separately “meant and were understood to mean that the Plaintiff was complicit in criminal activity relating to 1MDB”.

Citing a plethora of documents and articles covering the 1MDB saga, PM Lee’s legal team said that the offending words in the article and in Mr Leong’s Facebook post together “are false and baseless and were calculated to disparage and impugn the Plaintiff in his office as the Prime Minister,” and that PM Lee has been “gravely injured in his character and reputation, and has been brought into public scandal, odium and contempt.”

Local socio-political website TOC makes two observations in its report on the matter. It first alleged that “other netizens that they were not served with the same letter from IMDA despite sharing the same article which Leong did.”

The publication also reported that it “had seen the offending Facebook post before it was removed and note that the article was shared without any captions. Meaning Leong did not include any comments of his own other than sharing the STR article.”

Meanwhile, PM Lee’s press secretary, Ms Chang Li Lin, has confirmed to the press that the PM has begun legal proceedings against Mr Leong. She said: “Mr Lee reserves the right to take legal action against other parties who similarly defame him.”

Mr Leong has since said that he is “bewildered” by the legal proceedings that have been initiated against him. Speaking to This Week in Asia, he said:

“For legal reasons, I am unable to comment on my case. In my defence, I can say that this is a fight not between me and the prime minister, but between the people and him for freedom of expression, transparency and democracy. I am bewildered as to why he is suing me for defamation.”