SINGAPORE: The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) is pushing for Mr Li Shengwu, the grandson of Lee Kuan Yew and son of Lee Hsien Yang, to be fined S$15,000 for alleged contempt of court.
AGC's representatives on Thursday (Jul 2) called for this fine, with two weeks' jail in lieu if he does not pay the fine, after Mr Li failed to abide by a court order to appear for cross-examination.
The court action initiated by AGC was over a Facebook post made in 2017 by Mr Li, who is the nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
The 35-year-old is accused of publishing a private Facebook post with a link to a New York Times editorial titled Censored In Singapore, and a description saying: “Keep in mind, of course, that the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system”.
This statement "clearly impugns" the impartiality of Singapore's courts and judiciary, said AGC representative Low Siew Ling.
In a statement after the hearing, AGC said that the post was published amid the highly publicised dispute over 38 Oxley Road. There were allegations of abuse of power by Mr Li’s father and his aunty, Dr Lee Wei Ling, against their brother, Prime Minister Lee.
The timing of the post ensured that it would capture widespread public attention, and it was "particularly inflammatory as it denounced the court system that Mr Li’s grandfather, Minister Mentor Lee, had safeguarded his entire public life", said the AGC.
"The post directly contradicted MM Lee’s consistent and spirited defence of the integrity and independence of the Singapore Courts. In fact, Mr Li endorsed – as part of the post – a 2010 article from the New York Times which described MM Lee as the leader of an 'authoritarian regime'," wrote AGC.
DID NOT SHOW UP IN COURT
Mr Li, who is an assistant professor of economics at Harvard University and lives in the United States, was ordered by the court to appear in Singapore's court for cross-examination.
However, he did not show up on Thursday, and AGC said he repeatedly ignored several reminders to do so.
AGC's representative Low Siew Ling told Justice Kannan Ramesh that AGC sent Mr Li these reminders via several emails and letters to his Harvard University address.
Mr Li was also reminded that he is still required to answer interrogatories or questions served on him, to produce his Facebook friends list and to pay for the costs of his previous court applications which were dismissed.
He was sent reminders four times between February and March this year, said Ms Low.
Mr Li initially hired lawyers to defend him in his absence, but they discharged themselves in February this year, days after Mr Li said on Facebook that he would no longer participate in the proceedings.
Parts of his defence affidavit, labelled "scandalous and irrelevant" by AGC, were struck out. This was after Mr Li allegedly leaked copies of his defence to foreign media before it was admitted into evidence or referred to in any court hearing, said AGC.
Despite this, Ms Low said she would be addressing the relevant parts of Mr Li's defence, "just so we don't give him any opportunity to suggest that we are seeking to shut out his defence".
PRIVATE POST IS NO GUARANTEE THAT ONLY FACEBOOK FRIENDS WOULD SEE IT: AGC
While Mr Li's post was made privately to friends only, "anyone who uses Facebook does so at his peril", said Ms Low, citing a previous judgment and adding that there is no guarantee a post for friends will only be seen by those friends.
"(Mr Li) has tried to suggest that this post was private and seen by very few people, yet he has refused to produce his Facebook friends list," said Ms Low. "How many friends he had at the time - if any of them were reporters or members of the media. Several reminders have been sent to him. He has ignored them all. This is very telling.
"The claim that the post was seen by very few people must be a lie," she added.
She argued that Mr Li has claimed not to be a public figure, which is "convenient when he wants to defend a contempt charge", but said he has conducted himself in a manner that suggests he is in a position to know certain information "by virtue of his relationship" to the Lee family.
Citing an example on another Facebook post by Mr Li, Ms Low said a Facebook user asked him "why is this not in the news", to which Mr Li replied: "Because the Singapore news is heavily controlled by the Government. I am in a position to know."
"He has also chosen to give numerous media interviews to international media in his capacity as the grandson of Lee Kuan Yew," said Ms Low.
"He claims ... political persecution. (He) claims to be defending his grandfather's values, yet he demolishes them in the same breath."
READ: Contempt of court case: Li Shengwu should turn up for cross-examination if he has nothing to hide, says AGC
She said that AGC gave him "numerous opportunities" to apologise and remove the post, and was prepared to discontinue proceedings at the start if he apologised and took it down, but he chose not to.
"Instead, he struck a defiant stance. Not only did he refuse to apologise, he mocked (AGC's) actions," said Ms Low.
MR LI SAID IN JANUARY THAT HE DECLINED TO ENGAGE AGC FURTHER
Mr Li said in a Facebook post on Jan 23 that a press release by AGC contained allegations that are "as usual, false and spurious".
Responding to their "demand" to provide the identities of his Facebook friends, he wrote: "My position is this: Who my friends are is none of their business. My friends have a moral right to privacy."
He added that he would not "dignify the AGC's allegations with a detailed response", since he was "declining to engage further in these court proceedings".
Ms Low said Mr Li's defence affidavit was "replete with scandalous allegations" and he was "clearly using these proceedings as a platform to launch collateral attacks for a political purpose".
"Far from being a private figure, he has shown himself to be a master of using Facebook to court media attention," said Ms Low. "Before (AGC) could even apply to strike out his assertions, (Mr Li) proceeded to distribute copies of his affidavit to members of the foreign press, even though the local media had been asking for a copy since his post."
Addressing Mr Li's claims that he could not have foreseen that third parties would republish his Facebook post, Ms Low said he had "no basis to expect that every single one of his friends would not share his post".
"He did not take any steps to tell anyone to keep it private. (He) didn't even bother asking them not to share," she said.
She said Mr Li instead "blamed a malicious friend" for taking a screenshot of his post, which was later circulated and drew press attention including AGC's own press statements.
"It is inconceivable that someone of his educational background could have been genuinely mistaken about the meaning of what he said," said Ms Low.
She said others have been found guilty of contempt when they used language similar to Mr Li's alleged post, and to not pursue contempt proceedings would be to treat him differently.
She pointed also to Mr Li's "utter lack of remorse", saying he has "never demonstrated any contrition" and was instead "defiant" and "blamed others".
The judge reserved his judgment, and it will be released at a later date.
Lawyers previously told CNA that proceedings can go on even without Mr Li physically present, and he can be found either innocent or guilty of contempt without showing up in court.
If he is issued a fine or jail term, a warrant of arrest may be issued, they said, and he can be placed under arrest if he returns to Singapore.