SINGAPORE — Mr Lee Hsien Yang should welcome the opportunity to defend himself in “full view of the Singapore public” if he thinks that there is no basis for the defamation suits against him, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Thursday (Oct 5).
Mr Shanmugam was responding to a Facebook post by Mr Lee, who suggested that both sides “mutually agree to an independent arbitration” that would be “conducted in confidence” as a means of resolution.
The defamation suits arose from comments Mr Lee made on his Facebook page in July relating to Mr Shanmugam and Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan’s rental of black-and-white bungalows at Ridout Road.
Mr Lee suggested in his post on Thursday that both sides “choose an arbitrator of high international standing”.
“The ministers’ nominee could be, if they wish, a retired Singapore Supreme Court judge. The two arbitrators in turn could choose a third individual. The proceedings would be conducted in confidence but the decision would be made public, and be final and binding on all parties.”
Mr Lee also said that he had suggested to Mr Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan that they should sue him in London courts “since the statement which they took offence to was made in the UK”.
He added that both ministers had declined to do so, and have instead “proceeded to take action in the Singapore Courts and have been given permission to serve papers via Facebook instead of in person”.
Mr Lee is the brother of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. He and his wife Lee Suet Fern left Singapore after declining to attend a police interview in July 2022 over a separate matter.
In response, Mr Shanmugam noted in a Facebook post that “countless Singaporeans” have sued in the Singapore Courts for defamation that is published to the people of Singapore.
“Mr Lee’s statements related to events in Singapore, and were meant primarily for a Singaporean audience. His primary audience was not in the UK. We have sued Mr Lee for a libel that was published to the people in Singapore, which concerns Singaporeans, and which is based on the laws of Singapore,” he said.
“If Mr Lee thinks that there is no basis for the legal action, he should welcome the opportunity to defend himself in open Court where he can cross-examine us, and we can cross-examine him, in the full view of the Singapore public.”
The minister said Mr Lee should explain why he is entitled to make libellous statements and “yet be exempt from the rules that apply to the rest of us”.
“What Mr Lee really wants is special treatment. He wants to be treated differently from Singaporeans (and even foreigners) who are sued in Singapore for defamation,” he added.
According to affidavits filed on Aug 14, both ministers are arguing for the case to be heard in Singapore. They said they had been advised by lawyers, and believed that Singapore was “clearly and distinctly the most appropriate forum for the trial”.
“Insofar as the defendant is suggesting that Singapore is not the most appropriate forum for the trial of my claims, or that the United Kingdom is a more appropriate forum that Singapore, that is baseless,” according to Mr Shanmugam’s affidavit.
Both gave reasons that they were ministers in Singapore, were residents here, and that the offending words refer to events in Singapore.
They noted that there had been “substantial publication and republication” of the offending words in Singapore, where various people in Singapore would have read them.
Both wish to confine claims and reliefs to the publication and republication of words in Singapore, and believe that Singapore law was applicable for the claims.
THE DEFAMATION SUITS
In a Facebook post on July 27, Mr Shanmugam said Mr Lee had accused him and Dr Balakrishnan of “acting corruptly and for personal gain by having Singapore Land Authority (SLA) give us preferential treatment by illegally felling trees without approval, and also having SLA pay for renovations to 26 and 31 Ridout Road”.
Both Cabinet ministers sent lawyers’ letters to Mr Lee on July 27, saying they would sue unless he apologised, withdrew his allegations and paid S$25,000 in damages that would be donated to charity.
After failing to comply with the conditions in the letters of demand sent on July 27, Mr Lee said on Facebook two days later that he was simply stating the facts. He added that the two ministers should sue him in a UK court, as he said he was there at the time.
The ministers then filed separate defamation suits against him in Singapore’s High Court on Aug 2. On the same day, lawyers sent a letter to Mr Lee via Facebook Messenger, informing Mr Lee that defamation proceedings had commenced against him in the Singapore courts.
Mr Lee was asked to let them know, among other things, if he would be engaging lawyers to aid him in the proceedings, by Aug 3. He did not reply.
In separate Statements of Claim, both ministers stated that the offending words in Mr Lee’s post were “false and baseless and were calculated to disparage and impugn” both men and their ministerial offices.
The Statements of Claim did not specify the amount of damages sought. Both are also seeking an injunction to restrain Mr Lee from publishing or disseminating the defamatory allegations, costs and other reliefs.
On Aug 28, the two ministers applied to serve court papers to Mr Lee via Facebook Messenger on the grounds that it is impractical to serve papers to him personally in the United Kingdom.
The application involves serving the papers in portable document format, or PDF, and includes an order that service in such a manner is deemed “good and sufficient service of the court papers on the defendant”. CNA
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