The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has lodged a police report against the author of an article published on States Times Review for alleged criminal defamation, on the grounds that the article has tarred the credibility and integrity of MAS as a financial regulator.
The authority said that the article titled “Lee Hsien Loong becomes 1MDB’s key investigation target”, published on 5 November 2018 is "baseless and defamatory."
The STR article alleged that Malaysia had signed several unfair agreements with Singapore, in exchange for Singapore banks’ assistance in laundering 1MDB’s funds.
MAS argued that the article overlooks the swift actions taken by MAS over the last two years against Singapore-based banks and bankers involved in 1MDB-related transactions, and stressed that it was steps ahead its foreign counterparts in taking such actions.
The article also had falsely claimed that Singapore was forced to reopen its investigations into 1MDB only after the political upheaval in Malaysia, it added, stating that the investigations were never closed in the first place.
To illustrate, MAS emphasised that other than itself, Singapore’s law enforcement and regulatory agencies had also been working alongside their counterparts in Malaysia, Switzerland, and the United States of America even during the former Malaysian administration's tenure.
Previously at its Annual Report Press Conferences last year and in 2016, MAS assured it would not hesitate to investigate any new leads or evidence related to 1MDB-related fund flows.
The same stance was reiterated in a public statement jointly issued by MAS, the Attorney General’s Chambers, and the Singapore Police Force in June this year.
The financial regulatory authority also warned in its statement: "MAS has placed utmost importance on safeguarding its integrity as a financial regulator, and takes seriously any false allegations to the contrary."
Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, in his commentary to reporters at the Treasury on Friday (9 Nov), said that the article contains "absurd allegations."
He illustrated: "It brings in 1MDB, it brings in (former) prime minister Najib, and it says that our PM and Singapore Government were corrupt and complicit in the money laundering on 1MDB ... and that that is why Singapore got favourable deals, and Malaysia was soft on water price (and) gave us a good deal on HSR."
"I think when you make allegations of corruption, money laundering against the Prime Minister and the Government of Singapore ... of course, we take this very seriously," stressed Mr Shanmugam.
STR founder "welcomes a libel lawsuit" from PM Lee himself
Meanwhile, STR, which was founded by Alex Tan purportedly as a news media website, appears to be undeterred by the action taken by MAS, and has even challenged Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to file a "libel lawsuit" against the platform.
In a Facebook post today (9 Nov), STR wrote: "Articles published by STR have been mentioned by the Singapore government and experts as examples of misinformation.
"Last year, the website – along with The Real Singapore and All Singapore Stuff – was highlighted by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam in a parliamentary speech as websites guilty of spreading fabrications," STR elaborated.
Consequently, the online media platform brought up a challenge: "If the Singapore Prime Minister feels he has been wronged by the allegations, he should rightfully commence legal proceedings right away.
"Let's take this a step further: if Lee Hsien Loong does not sue within a week, it only further reinforce the public opinion the Prime Minister has a guilty conscience," charged STR.
"Like his former best friend Najib Razak, Lee Hsien Loong immediately invoked his favourite term "fake news" when criticism goes viral. "Fake news" is his first line of defence, but it is also a porous one," added the platform.
Mr Tan said: “STR believes in independent and accurate reporting, and as such, if the Prime Minister could deliver a reasonable explanation to the ‘fake news’ above, I am willing to take the first flight home and turn myself in to the Singapore Police.”
STR will "shut down voluntarily after 51 months of operations as a news media"; founder later says it will be his "personal blog"
Just days after announcing that STR will be shut down after "51 months of operations as a news media," Mr Tan said on Wednesday (10 Oct) in response to queries from TODAY that “STR will simply be the name of my blog. It is only a namesake… The content will not change.”
He added in his response to TODAY that he had no intention to stop or change the content he puts up on STR.
When asked if he was concerned that his website could be sanctioned under new legislation aiming at curbing fake news, Mr Tan stressed there is "nothing to be afraid of even (if) I were to continue running STR".
"It is a legitimate website fully abiding (by) local (Australian) laws," he said, adding that his platform "has set a precedent" in which an overseas news site "legally operating under local jurisdiction would have no standing obligations to the Singapore's censorship regime".