Reuters reported yesterday that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong upped the stakes of the defamation suit with the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER) by seeking to find a higher defamatory meaning to the words published in its interview with Dr Chee Soon Juan (see below).
That’s not really surprising given the track record of the PAP leaders. But get this: It wasn’t Mr Lee who originally sought this.
The Singapore Democrats understand that in the midst of considering his decision of whether to award summary judgment to Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Lee Hsien Loong, High Court Judge Woo Bih Li summoned parties back to court a few weeks ago and asked if both sides would make further submissions on a more serious meaning to the words published in the FEER article.
Needing no second invitation the Prime Minister’s lawyer, Mr Davinder Singh, promptly submitted an amended claim which now pleads a more serious defamatory charge.
Mr Singh roared in his submissions: “The article clearly asserted that like Durai, who abused defamation suits to silence his critics and conceal his corruption, Lee Hsien Loong has abused libel suits as a tool to conceal his corruption.”
Yes, Mr Senior Counsel, but why did it take you one-and-a-half years to come up with the amendments and only after Judge Woo raised the matter?
FEER was obviously taken aback by this and now has to amend it’s defence to address the new and higher claims.
The details of the matter are murky as so far proceedings are all held in chambers and not open to the public.
And to keep our readers updated in a related matter, Judge Belinda Ang has yet to announce her decision on how much to award the Lees in their suit against the SDP. The hearing concluded with the Judge sentencing Dr Chee and Ms Chee Siok Chin to prison for contempt of court.
In the contempt hearing, Judge Ang refused to give Mr J B Jeyaretnam, acting for Dr Chee, time to prepare the case. Dr Chee then told the Judge that it was unfair to ask Mr Jeyaretnam to argue the matter when counsel did not have time to prepare. Dr Chee then discharged Mr Jeyaretnam as his lawyer.
The SDP secretary-general has appealed, on a matter of principle, against Judge Ang’s decision on the contempt charges. He has already served the 12-day prison sentence. He will cite the happenings in Judge Ang’s courtroom relating to Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and wants the Court of Appeal to hear the matter and record its decision. The Supreme Court has yet to fix the date for the appeal.
Ms Chee also served a 10-day prison sentence for the contempt conviction. She is not appealing because the courts insist that a $1,000 fee is required to file the appeal.
Also, Mr Gopalan Nair’s charge of insulting Judge Ang in his blog will be heard on 8 Sep 08 in the High Court before Judge Kan Ting Chiu. Judge Kan had awarded Mr Lee Kuan Yew and Mr Goh Chok Tong a total of $500,000 in 2004 in the lawsuit the two former prime ministers brought against Dr Chee in 2001.
The 2004 assessment hearing was held when Dr Chee was away. Mr Davinder Singh had then taunted Dr Chee that he had chickened out and was afraid to face his clients in court. But when Dr Chee confronted the Lees in May this year, Mr Singh kept jumping up to object to the questions and even asked the Judge Ang to limit the cross-examination to two hours.
Bullies shy away when you stand up to them.
Singapore PM raises stakes in FEER defamation case
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has raised the stakes in a libel suit against the Far Eastern Economic Review, now saying an article in the magazine implied he was corrupt, court documents show. The amendment this week by lawyers representing Lee adds a more serious charge to an earlier claim that FEER implied the prime minister was unfit for office because he had condoned corruption by his father, former premier Lee Kuan Yew.
The August 2006 story that sparked the lawsuit, entitled “Singapore’s Martyr: Chee Soon Juan”, criticised the government’s handling of a pay-and-perks scandal at the country’s largest charity the National Kidney Foundation. The charity’s former CEO T.T. Durai has since been jailed.
“The article clearly asserted that like Durai, who abused defamation suits to silence his critics and conceal his corruption, Lee Hsien Loong has abused libel suits as a tool to conceal his corruption,” the Lees’ lawyer Davinder Singh argued in his written submissions to the court for the amendment.
The story written by FEER editor Hugo Restall, who is also being sued, had quoted opposition politician Chee attacking the Lees. The magazine is owned by Dow Jones & Co, in turn owned by media mogul Robert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Lawyer Peter Low, representing Restall and the magazine, told Reuters on Friday that he was now amending his defence.
“It raises a serious question as to the genuineness of that pleading if, sometime later, (the plaintiff) applies to amend to allege an altogether different and much more serious meaning,” Low said in submissions to the court against the amendment.
The magazine has argued the article did not defame the prime minister and his father because it was based on facts and fair comment.
But lawyers for Lee Hsien Loong and his father have dismissed the defence statement by the Hong Kong-based magazine as “frivolous, vexatious, scandalous, and an abuse of the process of the court”.
Singapore leaders have won damages in the past from foreign media groups when they report on local politics, including the Economist, the International Herald Tribune and Bloomberg.
The leaders in the Southeast Asian city-state say the lawsuits are necessary to protect their reputations.