Following the refusal to take down an article published on TOC titled “PM Lee’s wife, Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members” and issue an apology for the post, a writ of summons was served by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to The Online Citizen‘s editor in chief Terry Xu on Thu (5 Sep) at the latter’s residence.
The writ of summons was sent with a statement of claim by Davinder Singh Chambers LLC on behalf of Mr Lee, which alleged that the article contained statements that are false and baseless, and that it was intended disparage and impugn PM Lee as well as his office as the Prime Minister.
Mr Xu has eight days to enter an appearance to enter his defence against the claims made by Mr Lee.
In a letter from the Prime Minister’s Press Secretary Chang Li Lin on behalf of Mr Lee dated 1 Sep, it was alleged that the article and the Facebook post in relation to the article contained “libellous” statements, such as that PM Lee was removed as an executor and trustee of the late Lee Kuan Yew’s will after the latter found out that “the 38 Oxley Road property had in fact not been gazetted”.
“The truth is Mr Lee had not included PM Lee as an executor and trustee in any of his wills from 2011 onwards. Mr Lee had explained to PM Lee that he did not want to put PM Lee in a difficult position, if the Government were to acquire the property and his siblings took issue over the compensation,” the letter read.
“In July 2017, after his siblings made similar allegations, and accused PM Lee and his Government of abuse of power, PM Lee gave a full explanation on these matters in Parliament. He reaffirmed that Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s personal wish was for the 38 Oxley Road property to be demolished after his passing.
“However, after hearing Cabinet’s unanimous views that the property should not be demolished, Mr Lee eventually came to accept that the Government was likely to preserve the property in the public interest.
“He was consequently prepared to be flexible and contemplate options short of demolition. With the rest of the family’s knowledge, he approved plans to redevelop/renovate 38 Oxley Road to remove the private spaces,” Chang added.
The Press Secretary also claimed, on behalf of Mr Lee, that TOC‘s article and post “repeat several false allegations against PM Lee that were previously made by his sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling”, such as that PM Lee misled the late Mr Lee into thinking that the 38 Oxley Road property had been gazetted by the Singapore Government, and that it was “futile for Mr Lee Kuan Yew to keep his direction to demolish it”.
“PM Lee thereby allegedly caused Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who had originally wanted to demolish the house, to consider other alternatives to demolition, and to change his will to bequeath the house to PM Lee,” the letter added.
Mr Xu, in a written response to the Press Secretary’s letter, stated that he will not comply with the demands made in Paragraph 8 of the letter, which entail:
- removing both the Article and the Post;
- publishing within three days – i.e. by Wed (4 Sep) – a full and unconditional apology, and;
- undertaking not to publish any similar allegations, prominently on the TOC website.
The editor in chief of TOC also maintained that “the contents of the article constitute fair comment”, as TOC was “merely republishing the words uttered by” Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling.
“I am of the opinion that the contents of the Article are not defamatory,” he added, particularly “in light of the public statements emanated from members of your own family, who, presumably, would have been privy to the events that the article refers to, and the issues of public interest that arise”.
However, Mr Xu apologised for any possible misinterpretation that may arise from the article, in relation to the timing and reason behind Mr Lee’s removal as an executor in the will of the late Mr and Mrs Lee.
“It was not my intention to suggest that your removal as an executor in the will of Mr Lee Kuan Yew occurred after 2011.
“Neither did I intend to suggest that your removal as an executor and trustee of the will was a result of the issue of the gazetting of the 38 Oxley.
“I certainly recognise the possibility of the misinterpretation, which you have pointed out at paragraph 4 of your Letter. In that regard, I offer my apologies,” he said.
Recent and on-going defamation cases filed by PM Lee
The civil suit against Mr Xu is the latest in the series of lawsuits concerning alleged defamation against PM Lee.
Last Nov, Mr Lee sued veteran blogger and now People’s Voice Party politician Leong Sze Hian for sharing a link to an article published by Malaysian online media platform The Coverage on his Facebook page without any comments or amendments.
The article alleged that editor-in-chief of investigative journalism platform Sarawak Report Clare Rewcastle mentioned Singapore as “one of the key investigation targets, alongside Switzerland and United States” in the 1MDB corruption scandal during an interview with Malaysian media.
In an unprecedented turn of events, however, Mr Leong filed a countersuit against PM Lee on the grounds of alleging the prime minister of abusing the judicial process.
After Mr Leong filed the counterclaim, PM Lee’s lawyers made an application to strike out the counterclaim “on the ground that it has no basis in law and is completely hopeless”.
In response, the veteran blogger then filed an application to strike out PM Lee’s claim for abuse of process of the court and the hearing for both their applications were heard on 25 Feb this year.
After hearing the submissions from both sides, Justice Aedit Abdullah struck out Mr Leong’s counterclaim against PM Lee, and was ordered to pay a total of S$21,000 for two summons the following month.
The legal dispute between Mr Lee and Mr Leong is still ongoing.
Roy Ngerng Yi Ling, another Singaporean now based in Taiwan, was sued by Mr Lee in 2014 for defaming the Prime Minister in a post alleging misappropriation of money paid by Singaporeans to the Central Provident Fund (CPF).
Ngerng lost the case in 2015 and was ordered by the Supreme Court to pay S$150,000 in damages. Ngerng has since been making regular payments to PM Lee as a result of the court order.
Regional publication Asia Sentinel observed that both PM Lee and the late Mr Lee have “never lost a single lawsuit in 35 years since 1984”.