Defamation trial: PM Lee suffered absolutely no loss as a result of TOC publication, says lawyer Lim Tean

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong suffered absolutely no loss as a result of an article published by TOC in August last year, lawyer Lim Tean argued in his cross-examination of PM Lee on the first day of the defamation suit trial against TOC chief editor Terry Xu.

The article, titled “PM Lee’s wife, Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members”, contained alleged defamatory statements made by PM Lee’s siblings Mr Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling in relation to the 38 Oxley Road dispute.

Mr Lim, who represents Mr Xu, highlighted on Monday (30 November) that PM Lee and his team had comfortably won the Ang Mo Kio group representation constituency in this year’s general election.

PM Lee earlier claimed that the article in question had gravely injured his character and reputation, and that he had been “brought into public scandal, odium and contempt” as a result.

Mr Lim asked PM Lee to clarify on the loss and damage he had suffered as a result of the article published by TOC.

“Loss of trust, loss of reputation, loss of credibility, loss of respect,” PM Lee replied.

Mr Lim then prompted PM Lee on how he could “prove” the loss, as the latter had given “absolutely no particulars or details” as to how he has suffered the loss.

PM Lee responded: “I cannot prove that by producing people who will tell me that they have dialled me down, but I can say that what has been written has been read by 100,000 people at least, and has been further brought attention to by the defendant.”

Citing PM Lee’s team results in the recent GE, Mr Lim asked if the Prime Minister would agree that his team has performed well by winning the Ang Mo Kio GRC.

PM Lee said the election’s result was not affected by the 38 Oxley Road matter, but Mr Lim highlighted that the election is a “test of your integrity” and reputation.

“Your Honour, if counsel wants to go in this direction, in 2015 before these matters came out the PAP won 69 per cent of the popular vote,” said the Prime Minister.

When Mr Lim stressed that the question was about PM Lee’s “personal result” in Ang Mo Kio GRC, he noted that his team’s votes had also “came down from about 78 per cent [in 2015] to 72 per cent”.

Mr Lim also brought up about the “serious charges” made by Lee Hsien Yang and Dr Lee Wei Ling against their elder brother PM Lee in 2017, asking if he feels “content” allowing his siblings to damage his reputation with their statements instead.

But PM Lee noted that he has dealt with his siblings’ accusations and has even brought the matter to Parliament before.

“I made two ministerial statements, I opened myself for questioning by the MPs. I invited them to put to me any accusations, suspicions which they may have so that the matter could be clear. They raised nothing,” he noted.

PM Lee said he had also “waived privilege” and republished his statements against his siblings in and outside of Parliament so that they can sue him to “clear their names and prove the case”, to which he said, “they have not done”.

“So as far as the public is concerned, me not suing my siblings does not mean I condone or I believe their statements or that their statements are necessarily true,” he added.

Following that, Mr Lim further questioned PM Lee if his statements in Parliament on 3 and 4 July 2017 have “effectively debunked” the charges made by his siblings.

In response, PM Lee noted that while he cannot assure it was a “100 per cent success”, he believes his statements have had an impact on clarifying his stance on the matter.

“But that is not to say that if others repeated and I do not act against others for which my inhibitions against suing siblings do not apply, that will not further spread the poison and aggravate the damage,” he remarked.

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

PM Lee’s defamation suit against Mr Xu pertains to 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 and Dr Lee Wei Ling 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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