Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (Nov 30) sought damages of about S$150,000 for alleged defamation by blogger Leong Sze Hian.
Mr Leong, a blogger and financial adviser, is being sued by PM Lee for defamation over a Facebook post he made in November 2018, where he shared an article by Malaysian website The Coverage.
The article, which was originally published on the States Times Review, contained allegedly libellous material. It claimed that PM Lee had helped former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak launder money in relation to corruption-mired Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).
Both sides made closing arguments in person on Monday (Nov 30) in the libel trial.
Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, PM Lee’s lawyer, gave the figure of S$150,000 and compared it to the case of Roy Ngerng, who was sued for a similar sum by the prime minister.
He noted that the allegations made in Mr Leong’s case is “far more serious” than the one made in Mr Ngerng’s, as 1MDB is an issue “which is global in nature”.
“It’s not about just CPF (Central Provident Fund) monies which in itself is also very critical and important, but this is about 1MDB’s billions, which are the subject of investigations at that time in different countries and it had come to be associated with serious criminal conduct, including abuse of power, money laundering and criminal breach of trust,” said the lawyer, according to a CNA report.
“One is hard put to think of any other allegation that can be made against the Prime Minister that is more serious,” said Mr Singh.
“And when you make that kind of allegation, which is a stunning allegation to associate him with 1MDB and its billions and the abuse of office to corruptly lend help for money laundering, it beggars belief that the damages can be or should be anything but substantial. People must know that there are consequences for such grave falsehoods.”
Mr Singh said the defendant had shared the article without verifying whether there was a basis for the allegations.
He added that Mr Leong cynically used the court process to one’s advantage, without sympathy for the plaintiff Mr Lee, “who is merely exercising his legal rights”.
Pointing to how the trial was conducted, with allegations made against Mr Lee while he was on the stand and with Mr Leong not taking the stand, Mr Singh said the defendant was in court “for an ulterior collateral purpose” to attack Mr Lee.
Mr Davinder Singh, speaking about writer and financial adviser Leong Sze Hian, criticised the latter for not taking to the witness stand for cross-examination.
Mr Leong’s lawyer Lim Tean stated, on the second day of a four-day defamation trial in October, that the defence was “very satisfied we have sufficient admissions to meet our case, and that Mr Leong cannot assist with the issue further.
Calling Mr Leong’s decision “deeply disappointing”, Mr Davinder Singh said: “We have a situation where the plaintiff (PM Lee) has turned up in court and gone into the stand, unafraid of any questions and ready to defend his position.”
He added that Mr Leong “has turned tail and fled” even though he had alleged that PM Lee had abused the “process of court.”
In response to the figure of S$150,000, Mr Lim asked for not more than S$1 in damages per person who read the offending post, if the judge rules that Mr Leong is liable for defamation.
Taking the estimate by Mr Lee’s expert witness of 200 to 400 readers who saw the post, this would be no more than S$400, said Mr Lim, adding that “a dollar is not out of the question”.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (Oct 6) that suing Leong Sze Hian for defamation was not picking on him.
PM Lee’s comments came in response to accusations that he was singling out writer and financial adviser Leong Sze Hian for his role as a “staunch Government critic” by suing him for defamation.
PM Lee added that Mr Leong was not the most vocal nor most effective critic of the Singapore Government.
“I have explained to you how I have – the Government has, and so have I – dealt with repeated, multiple, prolonged onslaught of criticism from your client,” said Mr Lee to Mr Leong’s lawyer Lim Tean.
Mr Lim was also the lawyer for The Online Citizen’s editor Terry Xu, and defended him in the morning in a separate suit initiated by PM Lee.
“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. /TISG