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PM Lee begins legal action against blogger for defamation

PM Lee begins legal action against blogger for defamation

Source: Straits Times
Date Published: 05 Dec 2018
Author: Linette Lai

Blogger had shared an article on his Facebook page that alleged PM Lee had helped to launder 1MDB funds.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has begun legal action against financial adviser and blogger Leong Sze Hian for defamation, after Mr Leong shared an article on his Facebook page that said PM Lee had helped to launder 1MDB funds.

The article, which Mr Leong posted on Nov 7, stated that former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak had signed "secret deals" with PM Lee in exchange for Singapore banks' help in laundering money from the embattled sovereign wealth fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

It was published on Malaysian website The Coverage and titled Breaking News: Singapore Lee Hsien Loong Becomes 1MDB's Key Investigation Target - Najib Signed Several Unfair Agreements With Hsien Loong In Exchange For Money Laundering.

The Coverage article was described as "fake news and clearly libellous" by Singapore's High Commission in Malaysia.

Mr Leong took down his post on or around Nov 10, by which time the public post had been shared at least 18 times.

On Nov 12, PM Lee's lawyers at Drew & Napier sent him a letter of demand to make a public apology and compensate the Prime Minister for damages, but Mr Leong did not comply.

PM Lee's lawyers, led by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, said in the letter: "These allegations are false and baseless and constitute a very serious libel against our client, and disparage and impugn his character, credit and integrity."

They also said it was clear Mr Leong had published the post "maliciously and to damage our client", and that PM Lee was seeking aggravated damages.

Court documents obtained by The Straits Times said the offending words in the article, including the title, "meant and were understood to mean that the Plaintiff corruptly used his position as Prime Minister to help Mr Najib Razak launder 1MDB's billions".

As a separate and distinct libel, the offending words in Mr Leong's Facebook post "meant and were understood to mean that the Plaintiff was complicit in criminal activity relating to 1MDB".

Together, these words "are false and baseless and were calculated to disparage and impugn the Plaintiff in his office as the Prime Minister", PM Lee's lawyers said.

They also cited a list of articles and documents dating back to the first reports on the 1MDB saga in 2015, as well as after Najib had been charged with criminal offences, including money laundering, relating to 1MDB.

The offending article was originally published in the States Times Review blog on or around Nov 5.

The States Times Review is an Australia-based website that describes itself as a "personal blog".

On Nov 9, The Straits Times reported that the Monetary Authority of Singapore had made a police report against the author of the article, saying that it contained defamatory statements that were "false and malicious" and impugned its integrity.

The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) also said the article"undermined public confidence in the integrity of the Singapore Government and is objectionable on grounds of public interest".

On Nov 9, IMDA issued a notice to the States Times Review to take down the article by 5pm that day, failing which it would direct Internet service providers to restrict access to the site.

The States Times Review removed the article on or around Nov 10.

In seeking aggravated damages, PM Lee would rely on various facts, including the nature and gravity of the libels, the mode, extent and timing of their publication, and PM Lee's position and standing, said the court documents.

The court documents also showed Drew & Napier representatives went twice to Mr Leong's home in Walmer Drive with the writ of summons and statement of claim, but were unable to deliver them in person.

The first time, Mr Leong's maid said he was not at home and that she did not know when he would be back. When the representatives asked to speak to his wife, she said the woman was sleeping and she was unable to wake her up.

They returned two days later, on Nov 23. A woman from a house across the street from Mr Leong's home told them she had seen a man and two women leaving the house with luggage in a taxi the previous day.

In view of Mr Leong's evasion, the court permitted the writ and statement of claim to be served on him by registered post, e-mail and Facebook Messenger, as well as by posting on the gate of his home.

In response to media queries, Ms Chang Li Lin, the Prime Minister's press secretary, confirmed that PM Lee had started legal proceedings against Mr Leong for defamation, and said the matter is in the hands of his lawyers.

"Mr Lee reserves the right to take legal action against other parties who similarly defame him," she said.

The Straits Times could not reach Mr Leong yesterday.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

 

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