Ngerng insincere, exploited lawsuit, says lawyer

Ngerng insincere, exploited lawsuit, says lawyer
Roy Ngerng as he arrives at the Supreme Court.

Blogger Roy Ngerng was yesterday accused not only of being insincere in his repeated apologies to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for having defamed him, but also of exploiting the lawsuit to score political points and get more people to read his blog.

Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, in making the point, said Mr Ngerng's motives were evident from his "purely tactical" moves in deliberately and repeatedly perpetuating the libel even after receiving a lawyer's letter of demand to take down the defamatory blog post.

Mr Singh, who is representing Mr Lee, also pointed out that Mr Ngerng, 34, had on repeated occasions tried to mislead Mr Lee, readers of his blog The Heart Truths, and even his own lawyers in his actions, adding: "Every time you get caught, you apologise out of convenience. But you carry on doing what you always intended to do."

His cross-examination of Mr Ngerng went on for six hours on the second day of a three-day High Court hearing. It was to assess the sum of damages the blogger has to pay Mr Lee for defaming him in a May 2014 post that suggested Mr Lee had misappropriated Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

Mr Ngerng deleted the libellous post and apologised, but Mr Singh, in arguing for aggravated damages, cited how his actions since then displayed a deep and intense malice towards Mr Lee.

Yesterday's session came a day after Mr Ngerng cross-examined Mr Lee for six hours.

Throughout, Mr Ngerng - who last week discharged his third lawyer for the case so he could defend himself - rebutted Mr Singh's assertions that he was being evasive.

He also taunted Mr Singh, saying he "has not succeeded in teasing the evidence out of my mouth", and warned him against conflating what he said were two separate issues: the defamation suit, and his allegations of government wrongdoing in the management of CPF funds.

Over the course of the day, he challenged the Government to sue him on at least five occasions, if it takes offence at his articles.

Mr Singh began the cross-examination by asking Mr Ngerng for his opinion of Mr Lee. The blogger agreed that Mr Lee is "a man whose integrity is not in doubt", a view that he said he has held at all times.

Mr Ngerng also testified on the "generally low" readership of his blog, which was started in 2012, as people "didn't care" about the CPF issue. But readership spiked after he published Mr Lee's letter of demand in a post titled "I Have Just Been Sued By The Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong". It contained phrases from the defamatory post and links to other sites that had reproduced the article.

While Mr Ngerng said he was petrified and anxious when he got the letter, Mr Singh pointed out that his purported feelings were not in line with his publication of the letter and the tone of his blog post.

The article contained such statements as: "I have tried my best to advocate for my fellow citizens. However, today, I am sued by the very Government which should be protecting its citizens, such as me. This is disappointing."

This, Mr Singh said, showed how Mr Ngerng wanted to "further twist the knife". The article remains online - when the blogger has had the full awareness of its repercussions - speaking volumes of Mr Ngerng's real intentions, he added.

Mr Ngerng also produced a YouTube video, which got nearly 35,000 views, in which he said: "I do not regret what I have done." But he said this was in the context of him speaking on CPF and not defamation. Mr Singh pointed out that while the blogger promised Mr Lee he would delete the video, he instead made it private and shared it with four other people, who he was seeking advice from on its content.

But Mr Ngerng said: "Privatising it is as good as it being removed, because it has been removed from public viewing except myself." The video was eventually removed.

Mr Ngerng added that he had gone above and beyond what he should do in deleting the video and four other articles at Mr Lee's request. He maintained they were not defamatory, saying he complied as he "didn't want to aggravate the hurt and distress and embarrassment the PM would feel".

Yet, to draw the attention of local and international media to his case, he e-mailed more than 70 journalists a link to another site that had reproduced his defamatory article, a link to his public apology and the letter of demand on his blog.

Mr Ngerng said that by including the apology, he had negated the effect of the offensive post.

He also rejected Mr Singh's charge that he was "consumed with a desire to promote" himself. Mr Singh had cited the blogger's marketing background, making him adept at "effective messaging", but Mr Ngerng said he never wanted to be popular. "It is because the PM sued me that I was forced to become the face of CPF. If the Government takes good care of Singaporeans, I will be happy to stop writing, and I will be more than happy to be a waiter or a cleaner," he said.

The hearing resumes today, with Mr Singh continuing his cross-examination of Mr Ngerng.

Next page: On the sincerity - or otherwise - of Ngerng's apologies

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