Blogger Roy Ngerng has responded to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's defamation suit, saying in a defence filed in court yesterday that he never intended to accuse Mr Lee of misappropriating Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.
He also argued that the key concerns raised in his May 15 blog post, which is at the centre of the suit, were the lack of transparency with which CPF funds are managed, and the question of interest on these savings, among other things.
Mr Ngerng, 33, is the first blogger here to be sued for defamation by a political leader over online comments.
In his May 15 blog post, Mr Ngerng compared a Channel NewsAsia chart detailing the relationship among City Harvest Church leaders, prosecuted for allegedly misusing about $50 million in church funds, to a chart he created. His chart set out the relationships among the CPF, Mr Lee, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Temasek Holdings, GIC and other Singapore companies.
In a statement of claim filed on May 29 commencing the defamation suit, Mr Lee's lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, said that comparison was understood to mean the Prime Minister was guilty of criminal misappropriation of CPF monies. Mr Lee claimed damages, an injunction to stop Mr Ngerng from further defaming him, and legal costs.
Yesterday, Mr Ngerng's lawyer M. Ravi argued in the blogger's defence that readers would have looked at the blog post as a whole, and that it would have been "clear" to them that Mr Ngerng's principal concerns included the issue of transparency when it comes to CPF funds, the interest paid on these savings and Singaporeans' pension at retirement. This was a point that Mr Ngerng also stressed in a Facebook post summing up his defence yesterday.
Mr Ravi also disputed the defamation suit on the grounds that at the time of the blog post, the City Harvest Church leaders had yet to be found guilty of corruption by the court.
He said that Mr Ngerng had, after receiving letters of demand from Mr Lee, also made plain privately and in public that the allegation that Mr Lee had misappropriated CPF funds was "false and without foundation".
Mr Ngerng's offer of $5,000 in damages to the Prime Minister, he wrote, was also "not derisory". It was based on Mr Ngerng's "modest living and income" from his job at the time of the offer, as a patient coordinator in Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Mr Ngerng has since been fired from his job.
Mr Lee's rejection of that offer was also seen by Mr Ngerng as a case of the PM "seeking... to prevent him from expressing his views on the CPF and to impose an unwarranted and unnecessary restriction upon his constitutional right, as a citizen of Singapore, to freedom of speech and expression", wrote Mr Ravi.
He called Mr Lee's claim for damages and legal costs "unnecessary and unwarranted", and also argued that Mr Lee is not entitled to aggravated damages as that was up to the court to decide. If Mr Lee felt his standing had been adversely affected by the allegation, he needed to prove so, wrote Mr Ravi.
Mr Singh had earlier rebutted Mr Ngerng's claim that the Prime Minister sought to curtail his constitutional right to continue writing on the CPF. In a letter sent on May 29, Mr Singh had pointed out that Mr Lee "has never once said" Mr Ngerng is to remove his posts, including those on the CPF, other than those specifically identified in Mr Lee's legal letters.
Mr Ngerng had sought to give the "false impression" that Mr Lee was seeking to prevent him from expressing his views on the CPF, a "disingenuous suggestion" he made to "bolster his standing and in aid of his continuing public campaign against" Mr Lee, Mr Singh added.
As of yesterday, Mr Ngerng has raised over $107,000 through crowd-funding for his legal defence, topping his initial $70,000 target.
This article was first published on June 18, 2014.
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