Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is seeking nearly S$130,000 in legal costs and disbursements from blogger Leong Sze Hian after winning the libel suit he had brought against the latter for sharing on Facebook the link to an allegedly defamatory article accusing PM Lee’s involvement in the 1MDB scandal.
The prime minister is now seeking S$50,000 in legal costs and S$79,322.22 in disbursements which comes up to a sum of S$129,327.
This amount is very simliar to the amount of S$133,000 ordered by the High Court for him to pay PM Lee.
Just last week, Mr Leong raised the full sum after 11 days of crowd funding on Easter Sunday,
A significant portion of the amount sought for disbursements is derived from the engagement of Dr Phan Tuan Quang, PM Lee’s Hong Kong-based expert witness, at S$43,022.58.
The fees for his virtual attendance at trial amounted to US$8,000 (S$11,011.41), while the fees for preparing his expert report amounted to US$20,270.00 (S$28,419.27).
The Hong Kong law firm’s fees for drafting the legal opinion on the giving of evidence by a person in Hong Kong by way of live video and the printing of bundles for Dr Phan totalled up to HK$19,904.00 (S$3,591.90).
Dr Phan is an associate professor of Innovation and Information Management at the University of Hong Kong who specialises in data.
At trial, he testified via Zoom that while he did not have the raw data from Mr Leong’s Facebook post, he said that he was given the screenshot of the post.
He said that he had provided a low conservative estimate based on past scientific research.
In a Facebook post on Thursday (15 Apr), Mr Leong said that he has raised S$5,100 in the first hour of crowdfunding for the legal cost and disbursements that he is required to pay to PM Lee in legal costs and disbursements.
Mr Leong has until 22 Apr to respond to the claims made by PM Lee.
Evidence provided by PM Lee’s expert witness
During the trial, Mr Leong’s representing counsel, Mr Lim Tean charged that the expert report from Dr Phan is nothing more than “guesswork”, as the latter did not have metadata from Mr Leong’s post.
Dr Phan rejected the lawyer’s assertion, saying that his report is based on past scientific research and that they are not baseless, but low conservative numbers based on past data.
He told the court that there is a trending feature on Facebook.
However, Mr Lim pointed out to Dr Phan that Mr Leong posted the link to the offending article using a verified account and that the trending feature is only available on Facebook fan pages.
While Dr Phan conceded that such may be possible, he highlighted that his conservative estimation did not factor that in.
In his judgement, Justice Aedit Abdullah referred to the claim that the share by Mr Leong had been published to over 2,000 individuals in Singapore and commented it as seeming “somewhat speculative”.
“Dr Phan testified that the posts would have appeared on newsfeeds of 6,600 users, but this referred to Facebook users generally, not users who were specifically in Singapore. Though the plaintiff points out that no contrary narrative had been put forward by the defence, the figures the plaintiff sought to rely on nonetheless remained speculative. In any event, even if the spread of the Post was to thousands, it is not clear that it would be in the region of tens of thousands or more. Given what Dr Phan had actually testified, and in the absence of any support for any higher figure actually occurring on the facts, I could not accept the plaintiff’s account.”
The judge further wrote in his judgment on the evidence presented by the expert witness,
“On the instant facts, and in relation to this specific Post and Article, I am not satisfied that there is enough basis for me to draw the inferences the plaintiff advocates. This is not to say that publication can only be established by direct evidence. Rather, the platform of facts upon which the precise extent of publication is made out must be a robust one, and must relate to the specific context in which publication took place, rather than merely on academic extrapolation. “