Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong found the article currently at the heart of his defamation suit against TOC chief editor Terry Xu “unfair” as it had defamed him.

PM Lee testified as such in response to Mr Xu’s lawyer Lim Tean’s question on whether he thought the article was fair to him and his siblings.

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.

Mr Lim referenced a paragraph in the article under the “the Lee family feud” sub-heading, in which it was stated that PM Lee’s siblings had noted that their brother has rejected their attempts at reconciliation.

The relevant part of the article also stated that according to PM Lee’s siblings, PM Lee had invited all relatives except them during the first Chinese New Year reunion after their father Lee Kuan Yew’s death.

Mr Lim then asked PM Lee: “Now, you don’t complain about that, do you?”

PM Lee replied: “Why should I complain about everything in the article? I have taken advice and complained about five specific paragraphs.”

When Mr Lim asked if PM Lee had not found that to be defamatory of him, PM Lee’s lawyer Davinder Singh interjected: “Your Honour, how is that relevant whether other paragraphs are defamatory? Is my learned friend suggesting that he accepts these paragraphs are defamatory and there is more?”

Mr Lim clarified before the court that his question was relevant because they are crucial in establishing how PM Lee had known about the material in the article and subsequently formed the opinion that certain matters in the article were defamatory while others were not.

Justice Audrey Lim, in response, reasoned in summary that whether an article was defamatory is “whether it is understood to mean what it says”.

She then queried Mr Lim as to how the rest of the paragraphs were relevant to “whether the previous paragraphs are defamatory since they are not even the same event we are talking about”.

Mr Lim continued by highlighting to PM Lee that the article in question went on to explain the “problems faced” by Mr LHY’s wife Lee Suet Fern and their son Li Shengwu, to which PM Lee acknowledged.

Mr Lim then argued that it demonstrates that Mr Xu was “being fair” and “giving both sides of the story”.

PM Lee replied that “the question is whether you are being defamatory”, to which Mr Lim shot back: “Mr Lee, you are being the lawyer in that witness stand. I ask that you answer my questions. My question was when you read this article was Mr Terry Xu not being fair by putting out all sides of the story?”

PM Lee then responded that he does not render any judgment on the article.

“I am only concerned with the paragraphs that have defamed me,” he said.

Mr Lim then asked PM Lee: “I am asking you to render a judgment?”

Justice Lim interjected, saying that PM Lee as a witness “is entitled to give an opinion on whether he thinks it is fair”.

“If he doesn’t know, he can say he doesn’t know, because ultimately, whether or not your client is fair or what he thinks is fair is within his knowledge,” the judge elaborated.

When Justice Lim asked Mr Lim if asking PM Lee to render an opinion on the fairness of the article is relevant to the case at hand, Mr Lim replied in the affirmative.

Justice Lim then addressed PM Lee, asking if he thinks the article was written in a fair manner.

“You can say yes, no, or you don’t know,” she said.

Mr Lim subsequently prompted PM Lee for an answer, saying “Mr Lee, do you think the article was being fair to both you and your siblings?”

“Since it defamed me I consider it unfair. Whether it defames my siblings, I have no idea,” said PM Lee.

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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