SINGAPORE: The editor of socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC) and the author of one of its published articles will be charged on Thursday (Dec 13) with criminal defamation, the Singapore Police Force (SPF) said on Wednesday.
Terry Xu Yuanchen, the 36-year-old editor of TOC, had been investigated over the publication of an article titled "The Take Away From Seah Kian Ping’s Facebook Post", which alleged corruption within the Singapore Government’s highest officers and the tampering of the Constitution.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Senior Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Home Affairs Amrin Amin said the article in question had made "serious" allegations that members of the Cabinet were corrupt.
"The allegations go to the core of the integrity and reputation of leaders and the government, and this is something that we cannot take lightly. A clear stand has to be taken," Mr Amrin said.
THE INVESTIGATION PROCESS
The latest developments come after the Info-communications and Media Development Authority (IMDA) lodged a police report over the article on Oct 5. The police subsequently obtained search warrants to search the homes of Xu and one "Willy Sum", the alleged writer of the article, on Nov 20.
During their search of Sum's home, the police found evidence that the article was not written by him, but instead by a 35-year-old man called De Costa Daniel Augustin, who had used Sum’s name, the SPF said on Wednesday.
“Investigations suggest that De Costa had sent the article to The Online Citizen using 'Willy Sum's' email account without the consent of 'Willy Sum'," the police said, adding that Xu published the article without verifying the identity of the author.
Police then applied for a search warrant against De Costa on the same day. However, when they arrived at De Costa's residence at 2.50pm on Nov 20, they saw that he was about to leave for a flight due to take off at 3.45pm. De Costa’s house was then searched and electronic equipment seized.
"Terry Xu has said that he published the article without checking who the real author was. In fact, TOC has published other articles by De Costa under the name of Willy Sum before. This lack of verification on the part of TOC has troubling implications," Mr Amrin said.
"In this particular instance, an innocent man was almost implicated and De Costa could have escaped identification and accountability," he added.
Xu and De Costa will be charged with criminal defamation for the publication and authorship respectively of the article. If convicted, they may be fined, jailed for up to two years, or both.
In addition, De Costa will also be charged for unauthorised access to computer material for accessing and using Sum’s email account without consent. If convicted, he faces an additional fine of up to S$5,000, two years' jail, or both.
TOC posted on Facebook on Wednesday that Xu has refused to sign the charge sheet as he does not want his signature to be taken as an admission of guilt.
PROFESSIONAL AND EXPEDITIOUS
Meanwhile, the police in their statement refuted allegations that they had over-reacted by seizing the electronic equipment of those involved in the investigation.
"As part of its investigations, the police had seized electronic equipment including laptops, mobile phones and hard drives from Xu and De Costa. This was necessary to secure and preserve evidence. The seizure of the electronic equipment from Xu and De Costa uncovered evidence pointing towards the identity of the true author of the article, in this case, De Costa," SPF said.
The police also responded to a post De Costa’s mother had made that the police had "unreasonably prevented De Costa from leaving Singapore for an overseas trip".
"The police had to act quickly as we had obtained information which suggested that De Costa was the true author of the offending article," they said.
Mr Amrin on Wednesday said that police investigations were carried out "professionally and expeditiously".
"There were lots of unsubstantiated allegations that had been made about the investigations and the seizing of the equipment," he said. "I have set out the facts so that the public has a better understanding of the steps that have been taken and what investigations have shown so far."
Editor's note: A quote from Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin on the TOC article has been clarified by MHA.