PM Lee rejects offer of S$5,000 in damages from blogger

PM Lee rejects offer of S$5,000 in damages from blogger
Mr Roy Ngerng is seen here holding his application to be a Nominated Member of Parliament. Photo: Roy Ngerng's Facebook page.
Published: 4:02 AM, May 28, 2014

SINGAPORE — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s defamation lawsuit against blogger Roy Ngerng looks set to go ahead after a flurry of twists and lawyers’ letters exchanged yesterday.

Mr Lee’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, yesterday rejected the offer of S$5,000 in damages as “derisory” and said Mr Ngerng had reneged on his undertaking not to republish defamatory content about misappropriation of money placed by Singaporeans with the Central Provident Fund (CPF) Board. Mr Ngerng misled Mr Lee and the public and did not come clean to his own lawyer M Ravi, said Mr Singh.

Mr Ngerng, 33, had agreed on Monday to take down four blog posts and a YouTube video largely about CPF issues as well as to not further publish similar content through various channels, to avoid payment of aggravated damages to Mr Lee.

However, he sent two emails on Monday to parties such as the local and international media. The emails included a statement that his article was telling the truth about how retirement funds are being used by the Government.

The YouTube video was only made private and was still available to selected people. The email also included links to other websites where the offending posts could still be read.

Mr Singh wrote to Mr Ravi yesterday morning, highlighting “further aggravation”, and asked whether Mr Ravi knew about Mr Ngerng’s intention to send the emails and not remove the YouTube video.

Mr Ravi replied that he did not and said Mr Ngerng “sincerely and unreservedly apologises for his momentary lapse (in) judgment”. He added: “For avoidance of any doubt, we (Mr Ravi’s law firm) reiterate that we had no knowledge of the dissemination of the emails and, in fact, had no knowledge of them until we had sight of your letter.”

In another letter proposing S$5,000 in damages, Mr Ravi said the amount was based on the modest living Mr Ngerng makes as a healthcare worker. The blogger’s concern over the “apparent mismatch” in CPF contribution rates and pension adequacy had led him to form his conclusions and act in an overzealous manner, wrote Mr Ravi.

However, Mr Singh said the claim of a momentary lapse in judgment was disingenuous and incredible. Mr Ngerng made false and malicious assertions in his emails and alleged that Mr Lee had complained about the offending posts to “eliminate the evidence of corruption” from his blog. Mr Ngerng can blame only himself for losing the opportunity to not pay aggravated damages, said Mr Singh.

On the damages proposed, Mr Singh said: “Your client’s offer of S$5,000 is derisory and completely disregards the gravity of (his) conduct, the undisputed fact that the libel is false and malicious, and (his) calculated and systematic aggravation of the injury and distress to our client.”

Mr Ngerng chose to allege criminal misappropriation of funds in a sensational way to raise his public profile and gain support, said Mr Singh. Mr Ravi said he would represent Mr Ngerng if the defamation lawsuit proceeds.

The threat of legal action began on May 18, when Mr Singh issued a letter of demand over an article posted on May 15, titled Where your CPF Money is Going: Learning from the City Harvest Trial. Mr Ngerng was to remove the article, apologise and acknowledge the false allegation, as well as offer damages.