SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is suing blogger Leong Sze Hian for defamation after he shared an article alleging that PM Lee had helped former Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak launder money.
A pre-trial conference for the case is expected to take place on Jan 7.
The article, 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", was carried on Malaysian website The Coverage on Nov 7.
The article was originally published by the States Times Review two days earlier, but it was the version by The Coverage that Mr Leong, 65, shared on Facebook on Nov 7, without any accompanying caption.
A letter from PM Lee's lawyers Drew and Napier to Mr Leong, dated Nov 12, stated that Mr Leong's public "post and the article contain allegations that are highly defamatory of our client".
According to the statement of claim, the post that Mr Leong shared showed a photo of PM Lee with Najib Razak, who has been charged for criminal offences including money laundering in relation to 1MDB.
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 document continued.
Also libellous was the allegation that PM Lee was "complicit in criminal activity relating to 1MDB", the lawyers charged.
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.
The lawyers noted that Mr Leong made the post available to the public, including 5,000 friends and 149 followers, drawing 18 shares as of Nov 8 evening.
They asked Mr Leong to publish an apology within three days of the date of the letter and to provide a written offer of damages and costs, among other requirements.
On Wednesday (Dec 5), Mr Leong addressed the lawsuit in a public Facebook post, saying that he complied with a notice from the Info-communications Media Development Authority (IMDA) on Nov 10 to take down the offending post within six hours.
Mr Leong, who blogs regularly about various topics including CPF, healthcare and education, claimed that he had not added any comments or embellished the article, but "merely shared it".
He also posted photos of a writ of summons and other court papers that he said were posted on his front gate on Tuesday.
In response to media queries, PM Lee’s press secretary confirmed that the prime minister had commenced legal proceedings against Mr Leong for defamation.
“The matter is in the hands of Mr Lee’s lawyers,” she said. She added that PM Lee “reserves the right to take legal action against other parties who similarly defame him”.
Mr Leong did not respond to Channel NewsAsia’s requests for comment.
GOVERNMENT ACTION AGAINST ARTICLE
The move is the latest in a series of actions taken over the article. On Nov 8, the Monetary Authority of Singapore said it had filed a police report against the author of the States Times Review article.
States Times Review founder Alex Tan refused to take down the article and the website was later made inaccessible as IMDA directed Internet service providers to restrict access to it.
The States Times Review Facebook page is still active, although it has been converted to "Singapore Herald" after Mr Tan claimed he had been approached by someone in Canada who wanted to take over the page.
Mr Singh had represented PM Lee in 2014 when he sued blogger Roy Ngerng for defamation.
Ngerng was ordered to pay the prime minister S$150,000 in damages, which his lawyer said would be in instalments, beginning from S$100 a month until April 2021, when he will pay S$1,000 a month until the compensation is complete.