According to reports, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (PM Lee) has, through his lawyers, applied for the courts to strike out the counterclaim made by veteran blogger Leong Sze Hian (Leong) against him for allegedly "abusing the process of court" with his initial defamation suit against Leong over his sharing of an article from TheCoverage.My.
The offending article claimed that editor-in-chief of investigative journalism platform Sarawak Report, Ms Clare Rewcastle, had allegedly said that Singapore was “one of the key investigation targets, alongside Switzerland and United States” in the 1MDB scandal during an interview with the Malaysian media. Rewcastle has since denied ever making that statement.
Of course, it is PM Lee's prerogative to apply for Leong's counterclaim to be struck out. However, isn't this a matter of public interest? After all, if there was indeed no abuse of process, why not make this matter subject to open court so as to debunk Leong once and for all? Why create fodder for gossip and speculation by attempting to have it struck out?
An allegation of an abuse of process is a serious matter and given that we are all subject to the legal process, shouldn't we all be entitled to hear the ins and outs of this matter? Besides, this is a matter that involves an accusation that our Prime Minister has abused the court process which makes it all the more a "public interest matter".
Rumours (unfounded or otherwise) will always abound if there is no transparency. Rather than trying to control "fake news" why not prevent it from surfacing in the first place by making everything open and above board? PM Lee has already made this a public matter by suing Leong openly. In view of this, why not fight Leong's counterclaim in court?
By trying to strike out the claim, it may lead to the impression that there is truth in Leong's allegations which PM Lee is unable to properly answer. I doubt that this is the impression that PM Lee would want to create. Perhaps, PM Lee is of the view that the counterclaim is so unmerited that it does not deserve an answer. However, even if that is his opinion, he must be sensitive to the needs of his people who want to be reassured that everything is above board and this is the perfect chance to demonstrate that and create goodwill.
Whether or not the strike out is allowed is now a matter for the courts to decide but I cannot help but feel that this move by PM Lee and his legal team will create more smokes and mirrors.