By Howard Lee
The latest turn in the legal tussle between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and blogger Roy Ngerng, on a defamatory post that Ngerng has made against PM Lee, saw Ngerng's lawyer M Ravi seeking clarification on the validity of PM Lee to claim aggravated damages.
Through a document sent by hand yesterday, Ravi sought clarification from Drew & Napier, PM Lee's legal representative, on how Ngerng could have caused aggravated damage to PM Lee.
A report published in The Straits Times indicated that Drew & Napier has replied to Ravi with the necessary evidence. However, a number of queries and calls for proof posed by M Ravi did not seem to have been responded to.
For instance, in the amended defence filed on 27 June, Ravi indicated that PM Lee was aggrieved that the offending article, while removed by Ngerng, was “accessed and downloaded by “various people”, whom he does not name and about whom he gives no particulars.”
“Since the Plaintiff claims substantial damages from the Defendant, he is to put proof (i) of whether any identified (or identifiable) person accessed or downloaded the Article on the Blog and (ii) (whether or not the Plaintiff is able to identify any publishee of the Article) of any alleged impact or effect on him as a result of the Article on the Blog being accessed or downloaded.”
Drew & Napier did not provide the proof requested. Instead, in its response dated 25 June, it had reiterated its earlier position that Ngerng “had no intention of abiding by his undertaking (of making the apology)”, and it has always been Ngerng's “intention to opportunistically use the occasion of the (PM Lee's) lawful and legitimate demand to raise (Ngerng's) public profile, garner support and sympathy, and renew his attack against the Plaintiff.”
Drew & Napier also cited another video by Ngerng, which it claimed Ngerng used to assert that “he was “right” to make the allegations of criminal misappropriation against the Plaintiff, that the allegation was “the truth”, that the Plaintiff has used the law to suppress the fact of his criminal misappropriation... and that the Defendant did not “regret” making the allegation against the Plaintiff.”
Ravi further indicated that the subject of the defamation – the trail of City Harvest Church members that received media and public interest – has yet to receive a “guilty” verdict, and readers of Ngerng's blog “would have known that the City Harvest Church case was ongoing.”
Ravi also indicated that the offending blog post did not just focus on the defamatory matter, but also delved extensively into the CPF system and concerns about its management.
“As would have been clear to readers, principal concerns included the lack of transparency in relation to the manner in which the Singapore Government, MAS, GIC, and/or Temasek managed the funds from CPF monies; the question of interest on the money in the CPF; the growth of GIC and Temasek as wealth fund managers; and the retirement pension position for the citizens of Singapore. Readers would have read the whole of the Article and, accordingly, would have considered the Words and Images Complained of in the context of the whole.”
Ravi also wrote that PM Lee's statement of claims did not “set out any “reasons” to show why the Plaintiff “has suffered” any loss or damage”as a result of what Ngerng published.
In addition, Ravi also wrote that PM Lee was not able to proof why the initial offer of damage by Ngerng, amounting to $5,000, was “derisory”, and if more was to be expected from Ngerng, PM Lee needs to put to proof “the basis upon which such damages are claimed”.
M Ravi told TOC that he will be making a full submission based on Article 14 of the Constitution, which guarantees a Singaporean's right to freedom of expression, and will cite Commonwealth papers to show that PM Lee has no cause of action against Ngerng. He added that he will not comment on this matter for now as the case is before court.