Court documents claim PM Lee 'suffered loss and damage' following publication of The Online Citizen article

Court documents claim PM Lee 'suffered loss and damage' following publication of The Online Citizen article

The Online Citizen chief editor Terry Xu
Chief editor of The Online Citizen (TOC), Terry Xu. (Photos: Facebook/TheOnlineCitizen/Terry Xu)

SINGAPORE: An article published on The Online Citizen (TOC) "gravely injures" Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's character and reputation, according to court documents filed by PM Lee's lawyers.

The Prime Minister is suing TOC editor Xu Yuanchen, also known as Terry Xu, for defamation, claiming that he has "suffered loss and damage" over an article published last month referring to the Oxley Road dispute.

The article was titled "PM Lee's wife, Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members".

Mr Lee's lawyers from Davinder Singh Chambers LLC served Mr Xu with a writ of summons and a statement of claim on Thursday. The writ was posted on Facebook later that day by TOC. 

OFFENDING ARTICLE ALLEGES THAT PM LEE MISLED HIS FATHER 

The article, which was also shared on Facebook, sets out a purported sequence of events involving the Prime Minister and his sister Lee Wei Ling over the dispute for the 38 Oxley Road property.

In court documents obtained by CNA on Friday (Sep 6), Mr Lee's lawyers claim that the offending article meant that Mr Lee had misled his father Mr Lee Kuan Yew into thinking that the 38 Oxley Road property had been gazetted by the Singapore Government, and that it was futile for the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew to keep his direction to demolish it.

READ: PM Lee asks The Online Citizen to remove article and Facebook post that repeated "false allegations"

READ: Editor of The Online Citizen says will not comply with PM Lee's request on article, Facebook post

The article further claimed that Mr Lee caused his father to consider alternatives to demolition and to change his will to bequeath the house to Mr Lee.

According to the article, Mr Lee Kuan Yew removed Mr Lee as an executor and trustee of his will after he learnt in late 2013 that the Oxley Road property had not been gazetted.

"The offending words are false and baseless and were calculated to disparage and impugn the plaintiff as well as in his office as the Prime Minister," said PM Lee's lawyers.

They added that there was "substantial publication" of the article, which contained "sensational allegations" against Mr Lee.

TOC had 116,474 followers on its Facebook page at the time, and the post drew hundreds of reactions, comments and shares.

The court documents reported that the article was reproduced on various blogs and websites including a Hardwarezone forum and on mycarforum.com.

"The plaintiff has been gravely injured in his character and reputation, and has been brought into public scandal, odium and contempt," said the lawyers in their statement of claim.

MR XU RESTORED ARTICLE AFTER INITIALLY REMOVING IT

The court documents also outlined earlier events, starting from Mr Lee's press secretary sending a letter to Mr Xu on Sep 1 pointing out that the article and Facebook post had made false and defamatory allegations against the Prime Minister. 

She asked Mr Xu to remove the article and post, and to publish a full and unconditional apology within three days, as well as to undertake not to publish any similar allegations.

Between 6pm and 7.15pm on Sep 1, the article was no longer accessible on the website.

However, three days later on Sep 4, Mr Xu replied in a letter at 6pm that the article was not defamatory and that he would not be complying with the demands in PM Lee's press secretary's letter.
 
Mr Xu made the offending article accessible again on the website that evening and also published the letter he had sent in response to the press secretary.

This is an aggravation of damages, said PM Lee's lawyers, who added that there was "malice on the part of the defendant".

The Prime Minister is suing Mr Xu for damages, an injunction restraining Mr Xu from publishing or disseminating the allegations in the article and costs.

Mr Lee's lawyers declined comment when contacted by CNA, while Mr Xu said in a Facebook post on Friday that he had "no intention of providing any additional statement or response to media queries".

Mr Xu has eight days from the day he was served the writ of summons to satisfy the claim or enter an appearance to defend the claim.

In December 2018, he was charged with criminal defamation for publishing an article that alleged corruption among the Singapore Government's highest officers.

The trial for that is set to begin on Nov 27. 

The penalty for criminal defamation is a maximum two years' jail, a fine, or both.

Source: CNA/ll(hs)

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