Leong Sze Hian counter-sues Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for launching defamation suit

In an unexpected move, Leong Sze Hian, financial consultant and veteran blogger had filed a countersuit against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for the abuse of the process of the Court.

Leong was earlier sued by PM Lee for defamation over a Facebook share he made with an article from TheCoverage.My. The article claimed that editor-in-chief of investigative journalism platform Sarawak Report (SR) Ms Clare Rewcastle had mentioned Singapore as “one of the key investigation targets, alongside Switzerland and United States” in the 1MDB scandal during an interview with Malaysian media.

The article was written based on what States Times Review (STR) wrote, entitled, “Lee Hsien Loong becomes 1MDB’s key investigation target”, which was published on 5 Nov. The claim by STR was rebutted by SR, calling it “misleading” and “erroneous,” and made a request for STR to “correct the false claim.”

Lim Tean, who is representing Leong in both suits, announced on Facebook on Wednesday with a statement from the Carson Laws Chambers that he has accepted the case from Leong and said that he is looking forward to cross-examine the PM in court.

Lim wrote, “Mr Leong did not choose to pick a fight, but now offers battle to uphold the freedom of expression in Singapore, a fundamental human right which he has fought tirelessly for more than 2 decades.”

The statement from the law firm wrote,

Leong Sze Hian, respected human rights activist and campaigner, has today lodged his Defence and Counterclaim to the libel action brought by the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The action by the Prime Minister has been brought against our client for sharing on his Facebook page, without embellishment or comment, a post linking to an article on The Coverage website for a period of 3 days. No claim has been brought against The Coverage, The States Times Review (which first published the same article), Facebook or any other individual Singaporean resident who took the same action as our client.

In his Defence and Counterclaim, Leong Sze Hian pleads that he only had the post up for 3 days and removed it immediately upon receipt of an order from the IMDA. He challenges the Prime Minister’s case on meaning, on the extent of publication and re-publication and on malice.
He does not assert that what the article said or is alleged to have said was true.

He does plead that the claim is an abuse of the process of the court and relies upon the same argument for his counterclaim based upon the tort of abuse of civil process. Relying upon the English Court of Appeal decision in Jameel v Dow Jones [2005] QB 946, this is because, he will argue, the claim against him in respect of the publication on his Facebook page for 3 days, is not a real and substantial tort.

The claim, he will say, is unnecessary to vindicate the Prime Minister’s reputation in circumstances where the Prime Minister’s Statement of Claim accepts that the people of Singapore generally, which must be taken to include readers of our client’s Facebook page, knew that he and the Government were asserting that the article was false in the entire 3-day period it was on our client’s Facebook page.

Since that is so, no damage could have been caused in the eyes of any of the very few people who read the post on our client’s Facebook page and none is identified. This libel claim, therefore, cannot be said to be necessary. Our client invites the court to find that the initiating and pursuit of an unnecessary claim for libel must, therefore, be in order to try to obtain an impermissible collateral advantage, and believes its purpose is to chill freedom of expression ahead of both the trial of Najib Razak and a likely General Election in Singapore next year.

Earlier on 12 Nov, a letter of demand was served to Leong’s residence while he was not around. Drew & Napier who is acting on behalf of PM Lee, in its letter, demanded Leong to make a public apology and compensate PM Lee for damages.

The letter wrote, “Those allegations are false and baseless and constitute a very serious libel against our client, and disparage and impugn his character, credit and integrity,” PM Lee’s lawyers, led by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh and added that it was clear that Leong had published the post “maliciously and to damage our client”.

The court documents claimed that the offending words in the article, “meant and were understood to mean that the Plaintiff corruptly used his position as Prime Minister to help Mr Najib Razak launder 1MDB’s billions”.

It further states that as a separate and distinct libel, the offending words in Mr Leong’s Facebook post “meant and were understood to mean that the Plaintiff was complicit in criminal activity relating to 1MDB”.

Together, these words “are false and baseless and were calculated to disparage and impugn the Plaintiff in his office as the Prime Minister”, PM Lee’s lawyers said.

It is noted that the offending Facebook post shared the article without any captions. Meaning Leong did not include any comments of his own other than sharing the TheCoverage.MY article.

In response to media queries, Ms Chang Li Lin, the press secretary to the Prime Minister, confirmed that PM Lee had commenced legal proceedings against Leong for defamation, and said that the matter is in the hands of PM Lee’s lawyers.

“Mr Lee reserves the right to take legal action against other parties who similarly defame him,” she added.

In 2014, PM Lee sued Roy Ngerng for defamation after the blogger made references to PM Lee against the accused leaders of City Harvest Church. Ngerng was subsequently ordered to pay Mr Lee $150,000 in damages after he apologised to him as according to PM Lee’s demand.