The absence of email correspondence showing Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong telling the late Lee Kuan Yew that the 38 Oxley Road property would not be gazetted is “more telling” than the presence of email suggesting that he has said the opposite to the late LKY, TOC chief editor Terry Xu told the court on Wednesday (2 December).
Mr Xu was testifying in court during PM Lee’s lawyer Davinder Singh’s cross-examination on the third day of the defamation suit trial brought against him by PM Lee yesterday.
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 Singh, in his cross-examination of Mr Xu at the witness stand yesterday, asked whether Mr Xu acknowledged that the allegations made by Mr LHY against PM Lee are false, given that he has chosen not to subpoena Mr LHY.
Mr Xu disagreed, justifying that his first defence was filed according to the documents posted by Mr LHY and Dr LWL on their Facebook page, which he had relied on as the source of documents.
“Following the Disciplinary Tribunal — the documents being made public — those documents were tendered and not disputed by the plaintiff and also the siblings … Therefore, those were more reliable than what the siblings had presented in their public Facebook page,” he added.
Mr Xu was asked if he agreed that nothing in the email conversations — which took place in 2011 — remotely suggested that PM Lee has told the late LKY that the 38 Oxley Road property has been gazetted.
Mr Xu agreed.
“There was no email that shows that Mr Lee has told the late Lee Kuan Yew that the house has been gazetted.
“However, the absence of Mr Lee Hsien Loong stating that this house has not been gazetted or would be gazetted is more telling,” said Mr Xu.
Mr Singh pressed Mr Xu on whether he is aware of no emails “in 2012 or at any time” which would remotely suggest that PM Lee has told the late LKY that the house has been gazetted, to which Mr Xu answered: “I would repeat the same answer that I have (given earlier).”
“And so knowing that there are no such emails, it was all the more necessary for you to subpoena Mr Lee Hsien Yang to give evidence of what he claimed was said, correct?” Mr Singh further prompted.
Mr Xu disagreed with Mr Singh’s assertion.
The editor went on to say that it was discovered earlier this year that the Cabinet had given no confirmation to the late LKY as to whether the house has been gazetted or would be gazetted by the Government.
“I have actually sought any correspondence between LKY and the Cabinet,” he replied. “To me, the absence of such correspondence would indicate that there must be someone who had been telling the late Lee Kuan Yew that the house is going to be or has been gazetted.“
PM Lee questioned twice over LKY’s claim that PM Lee mentioned eventual gazetting of 38 Oxley Road
In his cross-examination of PM Lee on Tuesday, Mr Lim referenced an email Mr LKY wrote on 3 October 2011 to PM Lee’s wife Ho Ching, in which Mr LKY said “Loong as PM has indicated that he will declare it a heritage site” and that such “will put an end to any rebuilding”.
The email was also copied to PM Lee, Mr LHY and Dr LWL.
Mr Lim questioned PM Lee whether he replied to the email, to which PM Lee answered that he did not.
Stressing that he has pointed Mr Lee to “numerous emails” in which Mr LKY had “indicated that you, as the prime minister, would declare 38 Oxley Road as a heritage site”, Mr Lim questioned why PM Lee “would not have corrected that impression” when his position was that gazetting 38 Oxley Road was the Cabinet’s decision.
PM Lee replied that he did not tell his father that the house has been gazetted and that he had explained to Mr LKY, who he said “was under no misapprehension in 2011 and early 2012 as to what the status was or would be”.
PM Lee was also pointed to another email on 11 August 2011 where Mr LKY wrote: “I spoke to Loong, and asked him if he intends to retain Oxley as a heritage site. He replied ‘inevitably so given the strong views in Cabinet’.”
Based on this, Mr Lim asked PM Lee if his father already had the impression that the house will be gazetted.
To this, PM Lee replied: “Inevitably so means when the time comes, if the matter comes up before Cabinet, that is most likely going to be the outcome. It does not mean it has been gazetted. There is a world of different between an assessment that it is likely to happen, very likely to happen, and saying it has already happened.”
“My father’s answer accurately presents the status on 11 August 2011, which is it is inevitably going to be gazetted, meaning what I had read out I had told him,” he added.
Mr Lim then pointed out that “inevitably going to be gazetted” means it will be done sometime in the future.
PM Lee reiterated in response: “I have explained to you what I told my father. I have read out the email he sent on 11 August and this is his interpretation and summary of what I told him.”
“It was my assessment then. It was my honest assessment and I stand by it. But if it went before the Cabinet, it is very, very unlikely that the Cabinet will agree to have it knocked down,” the prime minister added.
Both PM Lee’s and Mr Xu’s sides are expected to send written submissions to the court in January.