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The Singapore Courts will proceed with the hearing to assess damages and costs that Dr Chee Soon Juan will have to pay former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong, despite his absence. The hearing is scheduled for September 6-8, 2004.
The plaintiffs sued Dr Chee, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), for defamation for questions he raised during the general elections in 2001 about Singapore’s loan to the former Suharto regime in 1997 at the onset of the Asian financial crisis.
The courts have denied Dr Chee the right to a Queen’s Counsel despite him being unable to obtain a local lawyer to act for him. Two high court judges rejected Dr Chees separate applications for Australian QC Stuart Littlemore and Hong Kong QC Martin Lee to represent him.
The plaintiffs then applied for summary judgment that was heard in chambers by an assistant registrar. The junior court officer agreed with the Messrs Lee and Goh that the case need not go to trial and awarded the lawsuit to the plaintiffs.
Therefore, not only was Dr Chee denied a lawyer but he was also not allowed an open trial.
Presently despite Dr Chee’s informing the courts that he will not be back in time for the hearing (he is on his way back from the US after completing a fellowship with the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Program at the National Endowment for Democracy), the judiciary will proceed with the hearing. Dr Chee had asked for the hearing to be postponed for a few weeks.
The amount that the SDP leader will have to pay to Messrs Lee and Goh is estimated to be more than US$700,000. If he is unable to pay the plaintiffs, he will be declared a bankrupt and, as a result, barred from standing for future elections.
Messrs Joshua B. Jeyaretnam and Tang Liang Hong were similarly sued in the past few years by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and other ruling party members. The opposition leaders were subsequently made bankrupt.
Mr Lee and others in the government have also sued foreign newspapers and magazines for defamation. The latest were the Bloomberg news agency and The Economist, which had commented on the appointment of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s daughter-in-law to a top post in Temasek Holdings.
Mr Lee Kuan Yew also recently sued former Singapore president, Mr Devan Nair, (in exile) in Canada and the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail. Mr Nair countersued the Minister Mentor, who then applied to the Canadian court to dismiss the Mr Nair’s countersuit. A Canadian judge threw out Mr Lee’s application and allowed Mr Nair’s countersuit to proceed. Mr Lee has since dropped his suit against the former president.