Singapore mainstream media remains silent over Leong Sze Hian’s crowdfunding success to raise the full damages awarded by the Singapore High Court to the Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong over the span of just 11 days.
Mr Leong, a financial advisor and blogger, initiated his crowdfunding effort on 25 March after the High Court ordered a sum of $133,000 to be pay to PM Lee for the defamation suit brought against Mr Leong by PM Lee.
Posting on his Facebook page, Mr Leong wrote, “Miracle on Easter Sunday” and noted that 2,065 had contributed to the crowdfunding efforts, raising $133,082 with the highest donation at $5,000 and the smallest at $2.91.
While Mr Leong has managed to raise the damages for the defamation suit, he still have to pay for the various cost stemming from legal cost and court fees.
The crowdfunding success by Mr Leong has sparked a lot of interest and comments by netizens and the international press. So far, media such as Bloomberg, Reuters and South China Morning Post have reported on the story.
According to Bloomberg, the Prime Minister Office (PMO) has declined to comment on the matter.
Seemingly taking the same stance as the PMO, local mainstream media such as Straits Times, Channel News Asia and the Chinese papers have not reported on Mr Leong reaching his fundraising goal.
Singapore ranks at an all-time low of 158 in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
Background of the Lee Hsien Loong vs Leong Sze Hian case
The defamation suit concerns an article by shared by Mr Leong on his personal Facebook Timeline titled “Breaking News: Singapore Lee Hsien Loong Becomes 1MDB’s Key Investigation Target – Najib Signed Several Unfair Agreements with Hsien Loong In Exchange For Money Laundering”.
The article, published by “Malaysian-based social news network” The Coverage, alleged that PM Lee had entered “several unfair agreements” with Najib Razak, who was the Malaysian Prime Minister at the time the deals purportedly took place, “including the agreement to build the Singapore-Malaysia High-Speed Rail”, according to court documents.
It is noted in Mr Leong’s submissions that he did not include any accompanying text alongside the article at the time he shared the article on 7 November 2018.
Mr Leong took down the article at 7.30am on 10 November 2018 after being instructed by the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) to do so a day prior.
Prior to his removal of the post on 10 November, the court noted that Mr Leong’s article had garnered “22 ‘reactions’, five ‘comments’, and 18 ‘shares’”.
A writ of summons was subsequently filed by PM Lee against Mr Leong on 20 November that year for defamation, on the grounds that the offending article created the “false and baseless” impression that PM Lee had misused his position as Prime Minister to assist Najib’s money laundering activities in relation to 1MDB’s funds, and subsequently insinuated that PM Lee was “complicit in criminal activity” relating to the Malaysian state fund.
On 24 March, Justice Aedit Abdullah found that the defamatory statement in the article shared by Mr Leong was worse compared to allegations made in blogger Roy Ngerng’s case.
The judge, therefore, decided to award S$100,000 in general damages to PM Lee despite the lower reach and S$33,000 for aggravated damages.