Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday asked for S$150,000 (US$110,000) in damages from political blogger Leong Sze Hian for sharing a news story linking Singapore’s leader to a massive Malaysian finance scandal.
In his second courtroom appearance Monday answering a suit brought by Lee, defense attorney Lim Tean counteroffered with S$1 for every person who saw Leong’s post, should the judge find his client guilty of defamation. At least 200 to 400 people saw the post, according to expert testimony. Justice Aedit Abdullah will deliver his judgment at a later date.
Leong in November 2018 shared a link to an article from Malaysian website The Coverage that claimed that Lee was being investigated as part of a probe into the multi-billion dollar looting of the 1Malaysia Development Berhad state fund, aka 1MDB, founded by former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak. Singapore’s embassy in Malaysia released a statement the next day calling it “fake news and clearly libelous.” The article is no longer available.
Both Lim and Lee’s lawyer Davinder Singh were delivering their closing statements yesterday, about two months after the trial began.
It was the second Lee defamation case heard Monday. Just earlier, Lim, of Carson Law Chambers, attended a hearing on behalf of new site editor sued by Lee for republishing accusations from his estranged siblings.
When revealing the amount of damages they would seek from Leong, plaintiff attorney Singh yesterday cited an earlier defamation suit by litigious prime minister that ended with a judgment of S$150,000 against political blogger Roy Ngerng over a post alleging misappropriation of Singaporean retirement funds. Singh said Leong’s post made a more serious allegation.
“One is hard put to think of any other allegation that can be made against the prime minister that is more serious,” Singh said.
“And when you make that kind of allegation, which is a stunning allegation to associate him with 1MDB and its billions, and the abuse of office to corruptly lend help for money laundering, it beggars belief that the damages can be or should be anything but substantial. People must know that there are consequences for such grave falsehoods.”
Lim yesterday brought up that the prime minister had not sued the source of the article or others who shared it. He also said that existing defamations laws in Singapore were not designed for social media. If 9,000 people had shared the same article as Leong; for example, Lim said it was unlikely that the prime minister would go after all of them.
“Very often they come across something interesting and they want to share it, are we to say then that each of them is potentially liable to a defamation lawsuit?” he said.
Singh then told the judge that when the latter delivers his judgment, he should “remind people that they cannot hurt others just because they are on social media and on Facebook, and that the laws apply to them equally.”
Leong was a former candidate for the opposition People’s Voice Party, of which Lim, his attorney, leads.