PM Lee suing blogger over CPF claims

PM Lee suing blogger over CPF claims
Blogger Roy Ngerng was accused of libel for a blog post that alleges Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has misappropriated Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is suing Mr Roy Ngerng for defamation for alleging in a May 15 blogpost that Mr Lee criminally misappropriated Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

It is the first case in Singapore of a blogger being taken to court by a political leader over online defamatory comments.

The legal papers were filed in the High Court yesterday and served on Mr Ngerng's lawyer, Mr M. Ravi, who confirmed he had received them.

In the blogpost, 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 had created.

His chart set out the relationships among the CPF, Mr Lee, the Monetary Authority of Singapore, Temasek Holdings, GIC and other Singapore companies.

The post can be understood to mean the PM, who is also chairman of state investment firm GIC, is guilty of criminal misappropriation of CPF savings, Mr Lee's lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, had said.

Yesterday, Mr Singh also sent Mr Ravi a separate letter that responded to his point about Mr Ngerng's constitutional right to continue writing on CPF.

Mr Singh pointed out that PM Lee "has never once said" the 33-year-old blogger is to remove his posts, including those on CPF, other than those specifically identified in Mr Lee's legal letters. Mr Ngerng knows this, Mr Singh added.

Despite that, Mr Ngerng has "sought to give the false impression that our client is seeking to prevent him from expressing his views on the CPF or from exercising his constitutional rights", said the Senior Counsel.

"That disingenuous suggestion was made in a letter which your client intended to make public, to bolster his standing and in aid of his continuing public campaign against our client," wrote Mr Singh.

Calling it "malicious conduct", he said Mr Lee will ask the court to consider it when assessing aggravated damages.

Mr Ngerng uploaded Mr Ravi's letter on his blog The Heart Truths on Wednesday in a post titled "I Will Continue To Speak Up On Singaporeans' CPF To Protect Us".

Earlier that day, Mr Ravi wrote to Mr Singh, saying Mr Ngerng's written undertaking not to "aggravate the injury and distress" to Mr Lee through "similar other posts" should not forbid him from writing about CPF.

He added that any attempt to curtail the "right to his freedom of expression" on CPF would go against Singapore's Constitution. The written exchanges between the lawyers were sparked by the May 15 blogpost.

The court papers filed yesterday pointed out that the words and images in the offending post are "calculated to disparage" Mr Lee in his office as Prime Minister and chairman of GIC.

Mr Lee is claiming damages, an injunction to stop Mr Ngerng further defaming him, and costs.

On Tuesday, he turned down the blogger's offer of $5,000 as damages, calling it "derisory".

This came after Mr Ngerng failed to remove a YouTube video and sent e-mails to local and international media, among others, on Monday, republishing posts he had promised to take down.

He took down his original post after getting a lawyer's letter on May 18. He also later apologised. But he subsequently uploaded the offending video and blogposts.

A pre-trial conference has been set for July 4.

This article was first published on May 30, 2014.
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