My memory was hazy

(From left) Defence counsel Choo Zheng Xi, Ai Takagi and Yang Kaiheng.
PHOTO: The New Paper

He had persistently denied being directly involved in the running of The Real Singapore (TRS) socio-political website.

Then, on Wednesday, when he took the stand in his defence, Yang Kaiheng testified that he and his then-girlfriend, Ai Takagi, had started a Facebook page to petition for the removal of new Member of Parliament (MP) Tin Pei Ling after the General Election in May 2011.

The success of that page inspired the couple to start an online business and spark the creation of TRS, he said during examination by his lawyer, Mr Choo Zheng Xi.

In a dramatic turn of events yesterday, Yang's testimony would lead to him having to admit that he had lied about Takagi's involvement in the Facebook page, and that he, in fact, had started the page by himself.

The crux of the matter was when the page was created and when he had got to know Takagi, which he admitted was "one to two months" before September 2011, when they got into a relationship.

During cross-examination, Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) G. Kannan told Yang that it was impossible for Takagi to have a hand in the anti-Tin Pei Ling Facebook page because they had yet to meet at the time.

Yang countered that his memory was hazy and he could not remember exactly when he met Takagi, but he was certain she had set up the Facebook page with him.

DPP Kannan then revealed that the prosecution had access to a log of WhatsApp messages between the couple that were "very personal and embarrassing" but would prove they met only after the anti-Tin Pei Ling Facebook page was set up.

Despite Mr Choo trying to interject, Yang asked for the messages not to be tendered to the court as evidence and conceded: "I admit I am lying."

DPP Kannan then charged that Yang had set up the petition Facebook page on his own.

Yang replied: "Possibly."

DPP Kannan said: "You gave this lie about her starting up the Tin Pei Ling Facebook page together with you because you needed an explanation why she would progress to taking over the TRS website, because she was interested in Singapore politics."

He added that Yang needed the court to believe his story that "an Australian girl took over sole control of TRS, a site dealing with entirely local issues, more believable".

COVER UP

And all these were lies to cover up that Yang was continually involved in the running of TRS, said DPP Kannan.

Yang disagreed.

The couple, who tied the knot last October, were charged last April with seven counts of sedition for allegedly using TRS to "maliciously exploit racial and xenophobic fault lines" to drive traffic to the website and cash in on the advertising revenue. (See report above.)

Yang, 27, a Singaporean, claimed trial and had told authorities his involvement was "fleeting".

Takagi, 23, an Australian who is 10 weeks pregnant, was jailed for 10 months on March 23 after pleading guilty to four counts of sedition.

Yesterday, DPP Kannan also pointed out discrepancies in Yang's statements to the police and the court.

For example, Yang told police officers in 2012 that he never thought of TRS as revenue-generating.

But on Wednesday, Yang testified that TRS was created after "we thought a website without censorship and more freedom of speech (would be) a good business venture".

Challenged by DPP Kannan, Yang said: "The questions that the police asked... I don't see the relevance... I was told can say no or deny it."

PLATFORM

He said TRS had two purposes - to provide a platform for average Singaporeans to voice out and operate as a business.

He also said he did not have a lawyer at the time.

DPP Kannan then pointed out that Yang's lawyer had sent out a letter on Feb 25 last year, two weeks before the police interview on March 13.

Yang then said his lawyer was not with him during the interview to advise him on what to say.

DPP Kannan replied: "That is television. This is real life."

The trial continues today.

If found guilty, Yang can be jailed up to three years and fined up to $5,000 for each sedition charge.

Accused: I helped set up the website, but wife manages it

I didn't know the risk and danger in associating myself with socio-political website The Real Singapore (TRS).

That was what Yang Kaiheng, 27, told the court during his examination-in-chief yesterday.

Defence lawyer Choo Zheng Xi asked Yang why he had referred to TRS as "my website" in chat logs with his friend, Mr K. Sudesh Durai, who testified for the prosecution on Tuesday.

Yang replied that he "took pride" in helping to set up the TRS website and did not think it was necessary then to dissociate himself from TRS.

Mr Choo also asked Yang why he had listed himself as responsible for marketing for TRS in an entry form submitted for an entrepreneurial competition.

Yang said Mr Durai had instructed him to upsell his portfolio so they stood the best chance in getting funding for their start-up project called Acreet.

Yang said his wife, Ai Takagi, 23, was responsible for day-to-day business and editorial content of TRS.

When Singapore Press Holdings sued the couple for copyright infringement, it was Takagi who issued the apology and paid the undisclosed compensation fee, Yang said.

Yang said he was not involved in the settlement of the suit as he was not an editor, administrator, moderator or developer of TRS.

"I did not need to apologise," Yang said.

Asked if he had considered writing for TRS, Yang said he did, but was hampered by his poor English.

He said he failed his A-level General Paper examination twice and had to retake it during national service.

Yang also said he would occasionally use his wife's Skype account, "able_tree", to phone his mother or chat with his friends, but never to do TRS-related work.

Exchanges in court

DPP G. Kannan: It would have been impossible for you and Ms Takagi to follow GE 2011 if you didn't meet her until September 2011, right?

Yang Kaiheng: I disagree, I would have known her by then.

DPP: Do you agree it would have been impossible for you to set up (the anti-Tin Pei Ling) Facebook page together when you have yet to meet her since you said you only met her one to two months before Sept 2011.

Yang: I am certain I set up the FB page with her.

DPP: You say you're certain you knew her in 2011. You're certain you set up a Facebook page. Are you now saying you met her in May?

Yang: I don't know exactly when. I can't recall.

DPP: You're lying that you knew her during the GE 2011 period.

Yang: I disagree because I do know her. I do remember setting up the FB page with her.

DPP: Your Honour, I did not want to do this but we have WhatsApp messages backed up from a Robin's (Yang's Christian name) iPhone, which we retrieved from a MacBook.

(Turns to Yang) These make it very clear that you met Ms Takagi one to two months before Sept 2011. They are of a very personal and embarrassing nature. Or would you care to admit you lied?

Defence lawyer Choo Zheng Xi: I don't recall my client saying that Ms Takagi...

Yang: It's okay, Your Honour, I admit I am lying.

ON THE DISCREPANCIES IN STATEMENTS

DPP: I put it to you that these questions where you either said you never thought of TRS as revenue-generating, or said you don't know it was revenue-generating because you were not involved, are all lies to persuade the police that TRS was not money-making.

Yang: It's not a lie. I was not sure what information to give, or what would get me into trouble.

DPP: So you were hiding information from the police?

Yang: I disagree. If my lawyer told me I can say something, I will say.

DPP: You lied to the police when you said you didn't know what Elance (an online freelancer portal where Yang had set up an account) was.

Yang: I disagree. I didn't know what to say... I was being defensive... Not telling the police anything that would get me into trouble.

DPP: You lied because you wanted to dissociate yourself from TRS

Yang: I'm not going to admit to something that I'm not involved in.

rloh@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on April 8, 2016.
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