The High Court on Mon (3 Feb) has ordered Li Shengwu to attend court hearings to be cross-examined in relation to the contempt of court case made against him.
Justice Kannan Ramesh dismissed Mr Li’s applications to set aside questions posed to him by the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) and for discovery to obtain certain documents from the AGC.
The Harvard economics professor and the nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was also required to answer the questions posed to him on oath within 14 days, the AGC was reported as saying yesterday.
The High Court on Mon also ordered Mr Li to present the documents he cited in his defence affidavit.
The AGC said that it has filed another application seeking a declaration from the court that Mr Li and his lawyers had engaged in the abuse of the judicial process, in relation to the release of Mr Li’s defence affidavit to the media last Sep.
The release was done before the affidavit was admitted into evidence or referred to in any court hearing, which is a breach of paragraph 29A(3) of the Supreme Court Practice Directions, said the AGC.
Reiterating its previous statement, the AGC said yesterday that Mr Li’s affidavit “contained matters that were scandalous and irrelevant to the issues in the case”.
The AGC noted that Mr Li and his lawyers “have since filed affidavits apologising for the breach”.
The court struck out parts of Mr Li’s affidavit after a hearing of the full submissions from both the AGC and Mr Li’s counsel on 22 Nov last year, added the AGC.
Li Shengwu should “make himself available for cross-examinations” if he “has nothing to hide”, says AGC
The AGC in a statement on 23 Jan alleged that Mr Li’s decision to withdraw from the proceedings is “significant”, as a “cross-examination will bring out the truth as to what actually happened, and Mr Li’s intentions in making the post”.
“The questions he was asked included how many Facebook friends he had at the time of his post and whether they included members of the media. This is relevant to the question of whether Mr Li would reasonably have foreseen his post to be published by the media.
“Mr Li refused to answer these questions. The clear inference is that his answers would have been damaging to his case,” the AGC argued, adding that Mr Li’s decision to withdraw from the proceedings “is a clear acknowledgment that his defence has no merits”, and that “it is obvious that he knows that his conduct will not stand up to scrutiny”.
Commenting on its serving of papers on Mr Li whilst outside Singapore, the AGC said: “While the Court of Appeal did not accept all of the AGC’s arguments, the Court confirmed in April 2019 that he had been validly served. This was again after full arguments (including from Mr Li’s counsel).”
“As early as August 2017, Mr Li had already stated that he would not be returning to Singapore for the proceedings. It is therefore clear that he never intended to come back to Singapore to defend himself, but was using legal representation in the proceedings as a platform to launch baseless allegations against the AGC and others,” the AGC claimed.
Touching on Mr Li’s allegations that the AGC’s purported actions — namely, applying to have parts of his defence affidavit struck out, and demanding to have said parts sealed in the court record to conceal them from the public eye — are “part of a broader pattern of unusual conduct by the AGC”, the AGC claimed that such “striking out applications are expressly provided for in the Rules of Court and are regularly made”.
Li Shengwu withdraws from proceedings to not “dignify” the AGC’s conduct with his participation
In a Facebook post on 22 Jan, Mr Li revealed that he is withdrawing from the contempt of court proceedings instituted by the AGC against him.
Mr Li said that the AGC had recently applied to strike out parts of his own defence affidavit “with the result that they will not be considered at the trial”.
He also alleged that the AGC had “demanded that these parts be sealed in the court record, so that the public cannot know what the removed parts contain”.
“This is not an isolated incident, but part of a broader pattern of unusual conduct by the AGC. For instance, when arguing jurisdiction in the court of appeals, the AGC argued that a new piece of legislation should be retroactively applied against me.
“The court saw it as unfair for the new legislation to apply retrospectively,” he noted.
Mr Li said that he will no longer “continue to participate in the proceedings against me”, as he “will not dignify the AGC’s conduct by my participation”.
While he said that he will “continue to be active on Facebook, and will continue to regard my friends-only Facebook posts as private”, he remarked that he had removed his cousin Li Hongyi from his Facebook friends list. Li Hongyi is the son of PM Lee.
“Surreal mess” since July 2017
In 15 July 2017, Mr Li wrote in a private Facebook post that is only accessible to his connections and said that “the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system”, which he noted referred to the constraints surrounding what the media is allowed to or able to report regarding the high-profile dispute of his paternal family.
He was referring to the family dispute surrounding the 38 Oxley Road home of Li’s late grandfather and Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, in which his father Mr Lee Hsien Yang, his aunt Dr Lee Wei Ling, and Mr Lee Hsien Loong were involved.
After his post, a relatively unknown blog posted a screenshot of his private Facebook post, which was then made viral through the SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh Facebook page. The blog is owned by the same entity that runs the SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh Facebook page.
Following the shares, AGC issued a public statement to local media saying that it was looking into a Facebook post by Mr Li, in which he questioned the independence of Singapore’s courts.
On 21 July that year, AGC sent a warning letter to Mr Li claiming that he made “false and baseless allegations” about the Singapore judiciary’s purported lack of independence.
The warning letter also requested him to “purge the contempt” by deleting the post from his Facebook page and other platforms, and asked him to “issue and post prominently” on his Facebook page a written apology and undertaking drafted by the AGC.
By 4 August 2018, the AGC filed an application in the High Court to commence committal proceedings against him for contempt of court, which was permitted by Justice Kannan Ramesh.
In October, AGC then “ambushed” Mr Li with “court papers in public” whilst he was delivering a lecture in “Scott Kominers’ brilliant market design class” at Harvard University.
In Dec 2018, the law firm representing Mr Li noted that the court papers filed by the AGC exceeded 1,300 pages.
Following this, Mr Li decided to challenge the court order that enabled the AGC to serve papers on him in the United States.
Lawyers told CNA previously that presently, should Mr Li decide to not turn up in court and is found to be in contempt of the court in the hearings — regardless of his absence — he may be issued a warrant of arrest.
He may be also arrested if he decides to return to Singapore, they added.
As of yesterday (3 Jan), Mr Li’s lawyers Abraham Vergis and Asiyah Ahmad Arif of Providence Law Asia discharged themselves as his counsel in the present case.
The court will hear the AGC’s application at a later date.