SINGAPORE: Today (16 Sept) marks 100 years since Singapore’s Founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was born and while the nation honours the late elder statesman, his youngest son Lee Hsien Yang has been served legal papers by Cabinet Ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan as part of a defamation lawsuit they have filed against him.
Mr Lee Hsien Yang wrote on Facebook, earlier this morning: “Ministers Shanmugam and V Balakrishnan have just served papers for the alleged defamation on me. The Singapore courts gave permission for them to do so via facebook message.”
The Ministers, who are key players in current PM and Lee Hsien Yang’s estranged elder brother Lee Hsien Loong’s cabinet, are suing the younger Mr Lee over a Facebook post he made on 23 July which referenced their rentals of two state-owned bungalows.
Both ministers initially sent legal letters to Mr Lee promising to sue him unless he apologised, retracted his allegations and paid damages. Mr Shanmugam said:
“Lee Hsien Yang has accused us of acting corruptly and for personal gain by having Singapore Land Authority (SLA) give us preferential treatment by illegally felling trees without approval, and also having SLA pay for renovations to 26 and 31 Ridout Road. These allegations are false.”
The Government also issued a correction direction under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA) to Mr Lee, asserting that his post contained untrue statements.
Mr Lee complied and posted the correction notice but published a new post two days later, saying he stood by what he wrote. Asserting that he was simply stating facts, he invited the ministers to sue him in the UK if they were sure of their case since the post was made within the UK.
The cabinet ministers’ legal teams then filed an application for substituted service to serve court papers on Mr Lee via Facebook Messenger.
Substituted service is a legal term used to describe alternative methods of delivering court papers when conventional in-person service attempts have proven unsuccessful. These alternatives include posting documents on the defendant’s premises, sending them via registered post or email, or even placing an advertisement in newspapers.
In 2016, the High Court ruled that court papers could be served through various online platforms, including Facebook, Skype, or internet message boards, particularly when defendants cannot be reached in person.
Court documents reveal that lawyers from Davinder Singh Chambers, acting on behalf of the two ministers, applied for substituted service on the basis that it is impractical to personally serve papers to Mr Lee in the UK. The lawyers assert that “substituted service by Facebook messenger will probably be effective in bringing the court papers to the notice of the defendant.”
In this case, the ministers seek a court order to consider the papers officially served by sending Portable Document Format (PDF) documents through Facebook Messenger to Mr Lee’s Facebook page.
Mr Lee, meanwhile, has questioned again why the action is being filed in Singapore instead of the country where the post was made.
He said, last week: “I invited ministers Shanmugam and Balakrishnan to sue me in the UK, where I made the statement that upset them. Instead, they have chosen to commence legal action in Singapore”
He added, “It is for the public to judge their reasons.”