SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's lawyers have applied to strike out a counterclaim by blogger Leong Sze Hian against a defamation suit brought against him by the Prime Minister.
The application was made "on the ground that (the counterclaim) has no basis in law and is completely hopeless", Mr Lee’s press secretary said in a media statement on Thursday (Jan 10).
Mr Lim Tean, Mr Leong's lawyer, said his client had received the application.
Mr Leong is being sued by the Prime Minister for sharing what his lawyers described as a "highly defamatory" article by Malaysian website The Coverage claiming that PM Lee helped former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak launder funds.
The article alleged that Mr Lee was "complicit in criminal activity" relating to scandal-hit state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), according to PM Lee's lawyers, led by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh.
The offending words in the article meant that PM Lee "corruptly used his position as Prime Minister to help Mr Najib Razak launder 1MDB's billions", the lawyers said.
These are "false and baseless, and were calculated to disparage and impugn the plaintiff in his office as the prime minister", they said in the statement of claim.
Mr Leong last month hired opposition politician Mr Lim as his lawyer. The defence to the defamation suit and a counterclaim were filed against PM Lee on Dec 26.
Mr Lim pointed out that PM Lee has not taken legal action against the publishers of the article – The Coverage and States Times Review, Facebook or other people who shared it on Facebook.
The counterclaim alleged that the suit against Mr Leong is an "abuse of the process of the court" and is "unnecessary to vindicate the Prime Minister's reputation", Mr Lim had said earlier in a statement by his firm, Carson Law Chambers.
In response to the latest application by Mr Lee's legal team, Mr Lim on Thursday said in a statement that Mr Leong will also be filing an application to strike out Mr Lee's claim.
"Mr Leong will be applying to strike out the Prime Minister's claim on the basis that it is an abuse of process, as explained in the Defence," Mr Lim said in a statement shared on Facebook.
Responding to queries from Channel NewsAsia, he confirmed that this was a new application, "totally different" from the counterclaim filed in December.
"We will be filing soon," Mr Lim said.
Laying out arguments based on previous court cases, Mr Lim said in his statement that the defamation suit was brought in part to protect the reputation of the Government "in circumstances where that is unlawful and unnecessary", and reiterated that this had a dampening effect on freedom of expression.
The States Times Review, which first published the article, has since been blocked in Singapore after website founder Alex Tan, who resides in Australia, refused to take down the article.
A police report was also filed last November against the author of the article.