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PM Lee says not suing siblings did not mean permission for anyone else to defame him

"I'm not obliged to sue everyone in order to sue one person. I consulted counsel and decided who to sue,” he says

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Singapore — “I had decided to take a different approach with my siblings but it didn’t mean carte blanche for anyone else to use that and further defame me,” said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in reference to not suing Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang for their statements.

His comments came on Day One -– Monday (Nov 30) — of a week-long hearing of his defamation suit against Mr Terry Xu, editor of The Online Citizen (TOC) website.

PM Lee said on the witness stand that the public family feud over the fate of the 38 Oxley Road property is one-sided.

He said that he and his wife Ho Ching held no animosity against his brother and sister. “The animosity is evident on one side from my siblings. Neither I nor my wife want this to continue or to hold anything against them.”

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“I have never done any Facebook post or criticised them publicly other than what I put out in my ministerial statements,” PM Lee said.

PM Lee said he had dealt with their accusations in two ministerial statements, opened himself to questioning in Parliament and invited MPs to put to him any suspicions.

On the statements his siblings made about him, PM Lee said: “(It) is not that anyone can say anything”.

“I had decided to take a different approach with my siblings but it didn’t mean carte blanche for anyone else to use that and further defame me,” he added.

“I’m not obliged to sue everyone in order to sue one person. I consulted counsel and decided who to sue”, PM Lee said, according to straitstimes.com.

In his cross-examination, the defendant’s lawyer, Mr Lim Tean, asked: “Are you suggesting to Singapore and Singaporeans that the media can never report on what your siblings have accused you of, when it’s a matter of intense public interest?”

PM Lee said the media could, subject to defamation laws. When Mr Lim asked if this meant reporting on his side of the story only, he responded: “Not at all”.

“They can report and if I sue, they can defend and vindicate themselves and demolish me — which is what you’re hoping to do in this trial.”

PM Lee added that he had also republished his ministerial statements outside Parliament, thereby waiving parliamentary privilege. This would allow his siblings to sue him over the statements but they have not done so, he pointed out.

“As far as the public is concerned, not suing my siblings doesn’t mean I condone (the allegations) or that it’s true,” said PM Lee.

However, he added that if others were to repeat said allegations against him and he does not sue them, “that would further spread the poison and aggravate the damage”.

“And I hope against hope that one day, matters may be repaired. But it’s one of those things that happen in life, and this too shall pass,” PM Lee said.

In court on Monday (Nov 30), Mr Lim said Mr Xu would discontinue any third-party involvement, thus ruling out Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling testifying in court.

PM Lee filed the lawsuit against the editor last year after an article with the headline “PM Lee’s wife, Ho Ching, weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members” was published on the TOC website and Facebook page.

TOC was asked by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) the following month to remove the article and Facebook post repeating allegations made by Dr Lee during the family feud in 2017.

The PMO, moreover, also asked that a full and unconditional apology be issued by Sept 4, 2019.

Mr Xu responded on that date, saying that he would not comply with the demands set out in PM Lee’s letter.

By the next day (Sept 5), PM Lee’s lawyers served Mr Xu with a writ of summons and a statement of claim at his place of residence, beginning a defamation case against him.

Also heard on Monday (Nov 30) but before another judge, was one other defamation suit brought by PM Lee. This was against blogger Leong Sze Hian, who is also defended by Mr Lim Tean.

PM Lee is seeking about S$150,000 in damages from Mr Leong for sharing in a public Facebook post in November 2018 an article by The Coverage, a Malaysian website. The article had alleged that PM Lee had helped former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak launder money in relation to the scandal-hit 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund.  /TISG

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