SINGAPORE: Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam and Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan were present at the damages hearing for the case involving the Ridout Road controversy yesterday (2 May) at the Supreme Court, while Mr Lee Hsien Yang, who left Singapore in 2022, was absent.

The two ministers sued Mr Lee in 2023 for defamation over his Facebook comments about their rental of two black-and-white Ridout Road bungalows. Mr Shanmugam said that Mr Lee had accused them of “acting corruptly and for personal gain” by having the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) give them preferential treatment by illegally felling trees without approval as well as paying for renovations to 26 and 31 Ridout Road.

“These allegations are false,” wrote the minister in a July 27 Facebook post.

Lawyers for Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Shanmugam sent Mr Lee letters telling him that he would be sued unless he apologised, retracted his allegations, and paid damages.

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Mr Lee was issued a correction direction under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), with the Law Ministry saying it contained untrue statements. He put up a correction notice but published a new post two days later, saying he stood by what he wrote.

In November, Justice Goh Yihan ruled in favour of Dr Balakrishnan and Mr Shanmugam and ordered Mr Lee to pay damages to both.

The damages hearing lasted around 20 minutes and both ministers were represented in court by lawyer Davinder Singh, while Mr Lee was unrepresented.

Mr Singh, who told the court that he and his team had written to Mr Lee several times to inform him of the hearings, also told members of the media after the hearing that they are leaving it to the court to determine the amount of damages.

Lawyers for the two ministers told the court in their written opening statement, “The more closely the defamatory statement touches on the claimant’s personal integrity, professional reputation, honour and core attributes of his personality, the more serious it is likely to be.”

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“The defendant’s defamatory allegations against the claimants are of the gravest kind.

“The claimants are public leaders and persons of the highest integrity whose standings are beyond question,” they added.

The Ridout Road bungalow rental issue was debated in Parliament in July 2023 following a Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) investigation and a review by Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean.

The CPIB said it did not find any wrongdoing by the ministers. The review found that processes had been followed. /TISG

Read also: Lee Hsien Yang served court injunctions by Shanmugam, Balakrishnan over defamatory Ridout Road post