Roy Ngerng ordered to pay PM Lee $29,000; PM reiterates readiness to be cross-examined

Roy Ngerng ordered to pay PM Lee $29,000; PM reiterates readiness to be cross-examined

SINGAPORE - Blogger Roy Ngerng has been ordered to pay Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong $29,000 for the legal fees and related expenses regarding the defamation suit.

The dates for the subsequent hearings are not confirmed.

"Mr Ngerng's lawyer indicated at the hearing that Mr Ngerng did not want to be cross-examined. The judge directed his lawyer to confirm whether he would be giving evidence by 30 January 2015," Ms Li Lin, the Press Secretary to PM Lee said in a statement today.

"PM Lee stands ready to be cross-examined, a position he has earlier communicated to the Court".

Mr Ngerng was found to have defamed PM Lee back in Nov 7, 2014.

It was Mr Ngerng's blog post on May 15, 2014 that triggered this saga, when the blogger compared PM Lee to City Harvest Leaders, who were being prosecuted for allegedly misappropriating church funds.

Blogger Roy Ngerng found to have defamed PM Lee
By Nur Asyiqin Mohamad Salleh, The Straits Times

Singapore's High Court has ruled that blogger Roy Ngerng defamed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who he suggested had misappropriated Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings.

The ruling by Justice Lee Seiu Kin is a first in Singapore on a defamation suit by a political leader over online remarks.

The judge said he could not accept Mr Ngerng's only defence - that the lawsuit was unconstitutional - and he issued a summary judgment against Mr Ngerng, who had wanted the case to go to trial.

The amount of damages which Mr Ngerng needs to pay will be assessed later, the judge said in a 39-page judgment out yesterday.

Meanwhile, Mr Ngerng, 33, cannot republish the allegation of criminal misappropriation, but his freedom of speech will not be curtailed, Justice Lee said.

The defamation suit was sparked by a May 15 blog post, in which Mr Ngerng compared Mr Lee to City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders, who were being prosecuted for allegedly misusing $50 million of church funds.

Mr Ngerng's lawyer M. Ravi had argued that under the Constitution, only Parliament has the power to make laws to restrict a citizen's freedom of speech. But Parliament, he said, had not done so.

And since defamation cases are based on common laws of defamation, these laws no longer apply because Article 14 of the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression.

Justice Lee, however, said that based on previous Court of Appeal decisions, "it is clearly settled law that the right to freedom of speech under Art(icle) 14 of the Constitution is restricted by the law of defamation". He wrote: "Accordingly, I find that there is no triable defence against the plaintiff's case in defamation."

The judge then spelt out why Mr Ngerng's May 15 blog post was defamatory. In the post, Mr Ngerng compared a Channel NewsAsia chart detailing the relationship between CHC leaders with his own chart of the relationships between the CPF, Mr Lee and GIC, among others.

Justice Lee noted that the CHC case was in the public domain on May 15, and "has come to be associated with the criminal misappropriation of funds in the mind of any ordinary, reasonable person".

He also noted that, in Mr Ngerng's post, "the allegation that 'money is being misappropriated' is unconditional and unequivocal".

The post also contains an implicit comparison between the lack of information given to the auditors in the CHC case and the lack of transparency with regard to CPF monies, he added.

This, he said, implies that Mr Lee is not willing to be transparent about the finances of the Government and GIC "because he wants to conceal the evidence of the criminal misappropriation".

Mr Ngerng had said the post, read as a whole, was not defamatory.

While the judge agreed it must be examined as a whole, the rest of the post is "consistent with the finding that the disputed words and images convey the meaning that the plaintiff is guilty of criminal misappropriation".

On Mr Ngerng's claim he did not intend to accuse Mr Lee of criminal misappropriation, the judge said intended meaning is irrelevant.

Last night, Mr Ngerng said on his blog he was disappointed with the ruling, and he will continue speaking on the CPF.

What happened

MAY 15: Mr Roy Ngerng, 33, publishes a blog post that alleged Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong misappropriated CPF savings.

MAY 18: Mr Ngerng gets a lawyer's letter from Mr Lee which asked, among other things, that he take the post down immediately, apologise and make a written offer of damages and costs. He takes the post down the next day.

MAY 23: Mr Ngerng apologises. He asks for damages to be dropped, but Mr Lee refuses.

MAY 27: Mr Lee turns down Mr Ngerng's $5,000 offer of damages, calling it derisory after Mr Ngerng failed to keep his promise to take down a YouTube video and blog posts making the same claims. Mr Ngerng instead changed the video setting to a private one and sent two e-mails to local and international media republishing the blog posts.

MAY 29: Mr Lee sues Mr Ngerng for defamation.

JULY 10: Mr Lee applies to the High Court for summary judgment, asking it to rule in his favour without going through a trial.

This article was first published on Nov 8, 2014.
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