Defamation trial: Article on Ho Ching’s sharing of toxic family relationship post meant to point out irony as Ho Ching is said to be one who is toxic, says TOC chief editor Terry Xu

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is not the person who was referred as the toxic member in the article currently at the heart of his 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 also mentioned how Mdm Ho had shared a link on her Facebook page to an article titled “Here’s why sometimes it is okay to cut ties with toxic family members”.

Taking the stand on the third day of the trial on Wednesday (2 December), Mr Xu said that the article was meant to point out the irony of the prime minister’s wife Ho Ching’s sharing of the article on toxic family members on her Facebook page.

PM Lee’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, asked Mr Xu if the alleged article meant to suggest that the prime minister is the toxic member in the Lee family, which Mr Xu had denied.

Mr Singh then asked if the editor referred to Madam Ho as the toxic member.

To this, Mr Xu said: “No, I said it is ironic for Ho Ching to be posting that article about toxic relationship within family members, because she is one of the toxic members which the joint siblings have been alleging”.

Mr Singh also argued that Mr Xu has used Madam Ho’s Facebook post as a peg to attack against Mr Lee, which Mr Xu has once again denied.

PM Lee on Monday told Mr Xu’s lawyer Lim Tean during the latter’s cross-examination of him that it was “quite clear” to him what TOC’s article was about.

“My wife’s posting or sharing was just a peg for TOC to hit at me,” said the prime minister.

Later in the afternoon today, Mr Lim — during his cross-examination of Mr Xu — asked his client if the part of the article that referenced the Lee family dispute was “meant to be an exhaustive account of the family feud”.

While Mr Singh objected on the basis that Mr Lim’s query was a leading one, Justice Lim allowed the question.

Mr Xu then testified: “It is not meant to be exhaustive a description. As you can see from my instructions to my writer, I did not indicate where the information was supposed to be obtained from, the specific date, who said what, but basically a rough description about allegations made by the siblings.”

Justice Lim then asked Mr Xu if he would agree that “whatever was in the article was meant to be an accurate account”, to which Mr Xu replied in the affirmative.

Mr Lim then asked if Mr Xu was aware that PM Lee had denied every allegation that the siblings have made against him.

Mr Xu explained that “the prime minister did not come out and say that the statements made were defamatory, were false” after PM Lee’s siblings had made allegations on 14 June 2017.

“Instead, on 27 June 2017, the statement that he (PM Lee) made to the press was that the allegations made by the siblings were mostly inaccurate,” Mr Xu added.

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 (Thursday) at 10am.

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