SINGAPORE: The allegations in a States Times Review article linking Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and investigations into Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) are "absurd" and yet, they were picked up by mainstream media in Malaysia, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam said on Friday (Nov 9).
He was commenting on the article, titled "Lee Hsien Loong becomes 1MDB’s key investigation target", which alleged that Malaysia had signed several unfair agreements with Singapore in exchange for Singapore banks’ assistance in laundering the funds of 1MDB.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore has filed a police report against the author of the article which it said was false, defamatory and "impugned its integrity".
When asked if a foreign government could be involved in the spread of the false allegations, Mr Shanmugam said he did not want to speculate.
However, basic checks would have shown the allegations to be false, he said, and yet they were picked up by mainstream media in Malaysia.
"The natural question is, why did they publish these falsehoods - probably knowing that there is no basis ... It is obvious also to anyone who publishes them that the allegations ... will try to damage the prime minister and seek to damage Singapore," he said.
"The modus - (it) appears in obscure sites and then gets picked up by mainstream media to make it look real ... The Select Committee (on Deliberate Online Falsehoods) has set out instances where this has been done elsewhere. So it is very curious - that's what I can say."
Mr Shanmugam said this method of propagating fake news has been used successfully in other parts of the world, and that when the information appears in mainstream media it gives "some credence" to the falsehoods.
"It’s not just Singapore. I think all over the world, technology has made it possible," he said. "Sometimes people deliberately do it, sometimes maybe there's a great deal of negligence or inadvertence, but often somebody is thinking it through and intending to have it circulated."
He said the States Times Review article added a "nasty and malicious twist" to bilateral issues that had been aired in the past.
"It brings in 1MDB, it brings in (former) prime minister Najib, and says that our PM and Singapore Government were corrupt and complicit in the money laundering on 1MDB, and that that is why Singapore got favourable deals and Malaysia was soft on water price (and) gave us a good deal on HSR (High-Speed Rail). Absurd allegations," he told reporters at the Treasury.
He added the Government is taking the incident very seriously and that the police would take action against all involved based on investigations and advice from the Attorney-General's Chambers.
"I think when you make allegations of corruption, money laundering against the Prime Minister and the Government of Singapore ... of course, we take this very seriously," Mr Shanmugam said.
Debunking the claims in the article, Mr Shanmugam said that Singapore was the first jurisdiction to act against those involved in the 1MDB scandal, taking actions that include shutting down two banks, prosecuting and convicting five people, and requesting for an Interpol red notice against Malaysian financier Low Taek Jho, better known as Jho Low.
"I think we are the first and perhaps only jurisdiction, only country to date out of 10 countries involved, that has actually secured convictions of individuals who facilitated the laundering ... and we have been providing information, to the Malaysian authorities since 2015," he said.
Separately, the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) said it has issued a notice to States Times Review to take down the article by 5pm on Friday.
If it fails to do so, access to the website will be restricted. The States Times Review refused to take down the article, it said in a Facebook post at about 6pm on Friday.