Just who is avoiding whom?

Chee Soon Juan

It is difficult, to put it extremely mildly, to fight a political battle when your opponents have the national newspaper on their side and you only have a website. Things will change but at the moment that’s all I have. So here goes…

It’s got to do with the charade over yesterday’s court hearing to determine the amount I have to pay in costs and damages to Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong.

Let me start with the letter I received from the courts a few weeks ago informing me that the hearing would take place on September 6-8, 2004. I replied and said that I would not be back in time, asking for it to be postponed until I returned in mid-September. I also asked for a date for the parties to take directions, that is, for both parties to appear before the registrar and agree on a mutually convenient date for the hearing.

The courts agreed and set September 2, 2004 for taking directions. This is where it gets nutty: If I cannot be back in time for the hearing on September 6, how can I be in time for a date four days earlier?

That wasn’t all. The registrar said the hearing dates on September 6-8 would proceed as fixed. Why on earth would there be a need for a meeting on September 2 to take directions when the courts have decided that the hearing dates would not change?

Be that as it may, the question still remains: Why would the plaintiffs be so anxious to push for a date in early September? I realised the answer when I saw photographs of Lee and Goh emerging from the courts: They did not want me to be present to cross-examine them.

Now Davinder Singh, the plaintiffs’ lawyer and PAP MP, says that I deliberately stayed away because I didn’t want to face both ministers. Does this sound even remotely reasonable? I was the one to ask for the hearing to be postponed so that I could be present at the hearing. It was Lee and Goh who objected to the postponement and wanted it to proceed in my absence.

Readers should also be reminded that it was the plaintiffs who had, in 2003, applied for summary judgment, a process whereby a case is decided without it being referred to an open trial. No one was surprised then that the assistant registrar awarded the case to Lee and Goh. I was guilty of defaming the plaintiffs without my even getting an open trial where I could call and cross-examine witnesses, including Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong. As I said, no one was surprised.

For absolute clarity, let me put the above two facts together: One, I had asked for the hearing on September 6-8 to be postponed so that I could be present and it was Lee and Goh who objected to this. Two, the plaintiffs had applied for summary judgment last year and prevented the case from going to open trial. Does it still sound like I’m the one trying to avoid my accusers?

The dispute can still be easily resolved. The hearing can still be adjourned until I get back to Singapore. I’d be happy to be cross-examined and then have the opportunity to do the same with Lee and Goh. Do readers here think that the former prime ministers will be willing to do this? It will be the litmus test to show just who is trying to avoid whom.

Another reason why I asked for the hearing to be postponed is because I am attending a meeting of the Alliance for Reform and Democracy in Asia, a regional organisation of which I am the chairman. The date of this meeting scheduled in Taipei, which was fixed way before I was informed of the court dates, is on September 9, 2004. Happily for the plaintiffs, the hearing would take place until September 8, making it impossible for me to make the meeting in Taiwan.

Coupled with the fact that my wife wanted to visit with her family and for our children to spend some time with their Taiwanese grandparents, wouldn’t it have made sense for me stay in Taiwan and only return home after my meeting?

Let’s do a recap:

1. I left the US at the end of August to attend a meeting in Taiwan.
2. The meeting is set on September 9. The courts then inform me that the hearing is fixed on September 6-8.
3. I want to use the opportunity enroute to Singapore for my family to spend a few days with my in-laws, an opportunity that doesn’t come often.

Given the above, is it so unreasonable for me to request for, and for the courts to grant me, a postponement for just a few weeks? For the sake of justice and for it to be seen to be done, a short postponement would have been in court’s interest. But no, the hearing had to go on in my absence.

In all honesty, however, my presence would not have changed the outcome of the hearing one iota. Anybody who thinks otherwise is delusional. The denial of my application for a Queen’s Counsel and then the award of the case to the plaintiffs without even so much as a trial says everything about this sorry saga.

Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong should have been cross-examined in open court. The fact that they will not be is a shame. Ultimately, it is not I who have lost. It is the public.