BC-Canada-Singapore-Libel Suit, 0702

July 13, 2002
Singapore Democrats

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Almost three years later, libel lawsuit by former
Singapore leader still in early stages of Canadian court system

By TOM COHEN,
Associated Press Writer

TORONTO (AP) A political dispute in Singapore+ dating back two decades has led to a libel suit by former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew against the city state’s former president and a Canadian newspaper.

Lee, now a senior minister and considered the most powerful figure in Singapore, filed the lawsuit in June 1999 over an article in the Globe and Mail newspaper that he claims libels him by saying he discredited C.V. Devan Nair with allegations of alcoholism and womanizing.

The lawsuit in Canada resembles similar legal oppression used by Lee and other authority figures in +Singapore+ against political opponents, said Margaret John, the coordinator for +Singapore+ and Malaysia for Amnesty International Canada.

Her organization has been concerned for “a good number of years about the number of defamation suits against critics in +Singapore+, many of them involving Mr. Lee,” she said Friday. “This suit will have a further chilling effect on freedom of statement in Singapore+.”

Lee and +Nair+ were allies in battling communism in +Singapore+, but ended up political rivals after Nair became president in 1981 while Lee was prime minister.

As president, a position of nominal power, Nair’s questioning of Lee’s government brought them into conflict, with Nair resigning under pressure from Lee in 1985. Lee said in +Singapore’s Parliament that Nair resigned to get treated for alcoholism.

The libel suit over the article by Globe and Mail reporter Marcus Gee published in March 1999 seeks dlrs 400,000 Canadian (dlrs 255,000 U.S.) in penalties and damages, along with costs. It names the newspaper, Gee and two senior editors, and Nair, who now lives in Hamilton, Ontario, as defendants.

Nair, a former trade union leader, has filed a counterclaim seeking dlrs 250,000 in damages (dlrs 160,000 U.S.) plus costs. Reached by telephone Friday at his home, Nair declined to comment.

“I have been advised by my lawyer not to speak about it because I am a defendant,” he said. Lawyers for Lee and Nair were unavailable for comment.

In its defense statement to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, the Globe and Mail denied the article was defamatory.

Lee’s lawsuit alleges the Globe and Mail article defamed him “personally and in the way of his profession as a politician” by insinuating he carried out a character assassination with a rumor campaign that Nair was an alcoholic and womanizer. The article included Nair’s suspicion that Lee induced government doctors to drug him so he appeared disoriented, which also was cited in Lee’s complaint.

In his counterclaim, Nair says Lee has a history of using false allegations and legal action to silence political opponents.

“Under Lee’s leadership and direction, the government of the Republic of Singapore has on a number of occasions used its substantial resources to prosecute, imprison or otherwise discourage” anyone expressing dissent or otherwise representing a political threat, the counterclaim filed in July 2001 said.

According to Nair’s counterclaim, he resigned on March 28, 1985, when Lee threatened to seek a motion in Parliament to oust him as president. After that, Lee said in Parliament that Nair resigned to get treatment for alcoholism, an allegation that Nair denies.

Nair’s counterclaim also says Lee insisted that government doctors handle Nair’s medical treatment, and that they administered enough Valium to make him appear disoriented after he became ill during a visit to Sarawak earlier in March 1985.

After his resignation, when +Nair+ criticized Lee’s government for alleged oppression of a dissident, Lee introduced a government paper in Parliament that accused +Nair+ of being an alcoholic and having inappropriate relations with a married German woman and with other women, according to the counterclaim.

Nair’s counterclaim denies the accusations and says the government paper was intended to discredit him for criticizing Lee’s government.