Defamation trial: Judge rejects lawyer Lim Tean’s question on disclosing correspondences within the Lee family in relation to 38 Oxley Road

Justice Audrey Lim on Monday (30 November) disallowed lawyer Lim Tean’s question to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on disclosing correspondences within the Lee family regarding to the 38 Oxley Road property on the first day of the PM’s defamation suit against TOC’s editor chief Terry Xu.

The suit concerns an article published on TOC on 15 August last year titled “PM Lee’s wife, Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members”.

The article contained alleged defamatory statements made by PM Lee’s siblings Mr Lee Hsien Yang (LHY) and Dr Lee Wei Ling (LWL) in relation to the 38 Oxley Road dispute.

In his cross-examination of PM Lee on the witness stand, Mr Lim, who represents Mr Xu, said to PM Lee that the prime minister “did not disclose a single correspondence within the family that touched on the subject of 38 Oxley Road or gazetting which is the issue at heart in this case”.

PM Lee’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh of Davinder Singh Chambers LLC, interjected by saying that the application for specific discovery was already made by Mr Xu, which had already been dismissed by Justice Lim earlier.

This then prompted Justice Lim to ask Mr Lim to rephrase his question to make his point clearer.

Mr Lim then asked: “Mr Lee, you will agree with me that in this case you have not disclosed many relevant documents pertaining to the issue at hand?”

PM Lee then responded and said he disagreed with Mr Lim’s assertion, pointing out that he has “rendered up everything” that is required and which the court has found relevant.

When Mr Lim pressed PM Lee to answer about the application for discovery, Justice Lim objected and said that she thinks this is not a request question that needs to be answered by PM Lee.

“I will not allow this line of questioning, okay? Mr Singh’s points are valid. If you find that documents should have been relevant for disclosure, your client makes the appropriate application at the time before the trial, and then it is for the court to decide whether or not they are relevant and material to the case. So please move on to the issues at hand in the trial,” she said.

She added: “The documents are all already here. Don’t revisit the issue of discovery. It is not relevant”.

In March this year, the High Court dismissed an application made by Mr Xu to obtain certain documents from PM Lee in relation to the defamation suit filed by the PM against him, following a closed-door hearing in chambers.

Mr Xu told The Straits Times that he had sought to acquire documents on PM Lee’s correspondence with his family, as well as minutes of a Cabinet meeting, in a pre-trial process to obtain evidence.

Instances of communication between PM Lee and his family that Mr Xu had sought were:

  • Correspondence from Mr LKY to PM Lee on the removal of the latter as an executor of his will;
  • Correspondence between PM Lee and his siblings Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling regarding the family home, dated 20 Jul 2011 to 31 Oct 2012; and
  • Correspondence between PM Lee and Mr LKY on the family home, dated 20 Jul 2011 to 31 Oct 2012.

Background of PM Lee Hsien Loong’s defamation suit against TOC chief editor Terry Xu

In September last year, PM Lee asked TOC to remove the article as well as a Facebook post linking to it, and publish a full and unconditional apology.

It was said that the article contained alleged defamatory statements made by PM Lee’s siblings in relation to the 38 Oxley Road dispute.

At the heart of the 38 Oxley Road dispute is the house owned by the Lee siblings’ late father and Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew and the elder Lee’s wish to have the house demolished instead of being turned into a museum or government relic.

Mr LHY and Dr LWL are joint executors and trustees of Mr LKY’s estate.

In a joint statement released on 14 June 2017, which was shared on their Facebook pages, PM Lee’s two younger siblings claimed, among multiple other allegations, that PM Lee and his wife Ho Ching had defied Mr LKY’s wish to demolish the house.

They also alleged that PM Lee and Mdm Ho were responsible for instilling and perpetuating the Government’s stance to preserve the house at 38 Oxley Road, including PM Lee’s purported move to demonstrate that Mr LKY had changed his mind on having the house demolished.

Mr LHY and Dr LWL also claimed that PM Lee had engaged in abuse of power as Prime Minister to obtain a copy of the Deed of Gift from then-Minister of National Development Lawrence Wong, which was then passed to his personal lawyer Lucien Wong at the time for his own purpose.

The younger Lee siblings also alleged that Mdm Ho wielded significant influence in the Government despite not being a public official.

PM Lee issued a statement the same day to counter the allegations. Despite that, Mr LHY and Dr LWL continued to make claims against PM Lee in subsequent Facebook posts.

Following that, PM Lee announced in June the same year his plans to deliver a ministerial statement in Parliament the next month to address the allegations made by his siblings.

The prime minister delivered his ministerial statement on 3 July 2017, in which he branded the allegations as baseless.

PM Lee also said that he would not be suing Mr LHY and Dr LWL as doing so would further besmirch their parents’ name.

The next day, PM Lee delivered another ministerial statement, in which he said that he would not call for a Select Committee or a Commission of Inquiry to be convened into the 38 Oxley Road dispute and his siblings’ allegations.

Mr LHY and Dr LWL on 4 July — the same day PM Lee made his second ministerial statement on the matter — in a joint statement alleged that PM Lee had improperly misrepresented to LKY that the gazetting of 38 Oxley Road was either “inevitable” or that the house was already gazetted.

Two days later on 6 July, Mr LHY and Dr LWL jointly stated that they would not post any further evidence on the allegations if PM Lee and the Government do not interfere with Mr LKY’s wish — as well as their own — to have the house demolished.

PM Lee responded the same day by saying that he could not concede to his siblings’ demand to withdraw plans to deliver his ministerial statement and to hold the debate in Parliament, as well as disbanding the Ministerial Committee and not responding to their accusations.

Mr LHY and Dr LWL henceforth continued to make posts on matters relating to 38 Oxley Road.

However, PM Lee decided to file a defamation suit against Mr Xu for publishing the article that contained the allegedly defamatory statements made by Mr LHY and Dr LWL in relation to the 38 Oxley Road dispute.

Prior to that, PM Lee’s press secretary Chang Li Lin wrote to Mr Xu, asking the latter to remove the “libellous” article and to publish a “full and unconditional” apology.

PM Lee later began legal proceedings against Mr Xu after the latter had refused the demands made in Ms Chang’s letter.

The trial continues tomorrow on Tuesday (1 December).

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