Clan group locked in defamation suit

Statements referring to the administration of a $90 million fund have caused four elderly members of a Hakka group here to sue another man for defamation.

The four men, all in their 60s and 70s, are Mr Loh Siew Hock, Mr Leow Soon Guan, Mr Lew Chee Beng and Mr Lam Vui.

In a hearing that began yesterday, they allege that Mr Lang Chin Ngau defamed them before and after Char Yong Association's internal election in 2012.

Except for Mr Leow, the rest were elected or co-opted to the clan association's 35th management council.

But the plaintiffs are seeking damages from Mr Lang for various statements that he and/or his team allegedly made, claiming these damaged their reputations.

The statements, which were contained in fliers, brochures and a Chinese newspaper report, allegedly insinuate that the plaintiffs had not properly discharged their duties as board members of the Char Yong Foundation.

The foundation was set up by the association to manage a trust fund. The fund had $91,611,554 as of June 30, 2012.

All five men were directors of the foundation before the election.

Fliers in Chinese that were distributed on Dec 2, 2012, by Mr Lang and his election team at the Nanyang Khek Community Guild, an umbrella group for Hakka clan groups here, stated: "...To ensure that the assets of our Char Yong Dabu Association and its $90 million in funds do not fall into the hands of outsiders, we sincerely hope that fellow clansmen... who have a conscience will vote for us."

Separately, brochures given out at the association's premises on election day contained phrases such as "to better safeguard the association's $96 million in foundation assets".

The plaintiffs' lawyer, Mr Adrian Wong, said yesterday in his opening statement: "This was a calculated and concerted effort by the defendant aimed at improving his election chances."

Mr Lang, however, denies any of this was defamatory. He says that the statements do not refer to the four men, or any decision taken by them as board members of the foundation.

His lawyer, Mr Quek Mong Hua, said the statements were an "exhortation" to vote for particular candidates.

While cross-examining Mr Joseph Liew Yoke Pheng, the foundation's treasurer from 2011 to 2012, Mr Quek said: "If you read it all in context, it appears to talk about a future situation. It's for the purpose of the association's election."

But the witness said the statements gave the impression that the existing directors of the foundation had not discharged their responsibilities to the organisation.

Mr Liew later said: "If I'm just an ordinary member... I would form the opinion that there must be something wrong with the existing board."

The group, which promotes Hakka culture, had more than 3,000 members in 2012.

The hearing. which has been scheduled for seven days, continues today.

This article was published on May 7 in The Straits Times.

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