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AGC argues for Li Shengwu to be found guilty of contempt of court, fined in his absence

SINGAPORE — In a three-hour High Court hearing on Thursday (July 2), representatives from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) argued for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s nephew, Mr Li Shengwu, to be convicted and fined S$15,000 over a long-running contempt-of-court case.

AGC argues for Li Shengwu to be found guilty of contempt of court, fined in his absence

Mr Li Shengwu (pictured), nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, has refused to take part in legal proceedings that began after his controversial Facebook post in 2017.

  • A High Court judge reserved his decision on Mr Li Shengwu’s long-running contempt of court case
  • Mr Li defied a court order to turn up for his hearing and answer questions on oath
  • He is based in the US and said he did not want to take part in proceedings
  • The case began in July 2017 when he posted on Facebook about a “pliant court system”
  • His appeal against legal papers being served on him in the US was dismissed

 

SINGAPORE — In a three-hour High Court hearing on Thursday (July 2), representatives from the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) argued for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s nephew, Mr Li Shengwu, to be convicted and fined S$15,000 over a long-running contempt-of-court case.

Mr Li, an assistant economics professor at Harvard University, was not present. The 35-year-old has refused to take part in the legal proceedings since January this year. 

In February, the court ordered him to return to Singapore to be cross-examined, after he did not answer various questions posed to him by the AGC on oath. 

High Court judge Kannan Ramesh reserved his decision on Thursday and did not specify when he will release it.

This development comes about a week after Mr Li’s father and PM Lee’s younger brother, Mr Lee Hsien Yang, announced that he had joined the opposition Progress Singapore Party.

On Nomination Day on Tuesday, Mr Lee Hsien Yang ended days of heated speculation by saying that he would not be contesting in the current General Election.

ABOUT THE CASE

Mr Li's case arose over a Facebook post that he made on July 15, 2017, which he said was accessible only to friends on his Facebook account. In the post, he wrote that the Singapore Government was “very litigious” and has a “pliant court system”.

He was commenting on the dispute between his father, his aunt Lee Wei Ling, and his uncle, PM Lee, over the fate of the home of his grandfather, the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, at 38 Oxley Road.

Mr Li had posted it while in Singapore. After he did not comply with requests by AGC to apologise and delete the post, AGC began legal proceedings against him for scandalising the judiciary. 

In February this year, the High Court dismissed his application to set aside the various questions that AGC had posed to him. These included how large his Facebook friends list was, who they were, and how many of them were reporters.

Written legal submissions on the application were due a week before Mr Li’s February hearing. However, he wrote on Facebook on Jan 22 that he would no longer take part in the legal proceedings.

AGC said that to date, he has refused to answer its questions on oath or produce certain documents referred to in his defence affidavit filed on Sept 24 last year. 

In his post, Mr Li said that his decision to refrain from future participation was due to AGC’s actions in court.

In particular, he singled out AGC’s application to strike out parts of his defence affidavit, such that they would not be considered during the trial. 

The next day, AGC said in response that parts of Mr Li’s defence affidavit had been struck out because it contained matters that were scandalous and irrelevant to the issues in the case.

It also said that his decision to withdraw from the case was to avoid the prospect of answering questions under oath and disclosing information. 

The High Court ruled to strike out parts of Mr Li’s affidavit in November last year. 

Neither Mr Li nor AGC specified the parts of his affidavit that had been removed. 

RISK OF HIS POST BEING REPUBLISHED

On Thursday, Deputy Chief Counsel Low Siew Ling told the court that AGC sent Mr Li four reminders through email and courier service from Feb 19 to March 23. He did not respond to any of them.

Ms Low proceeded to argue several points to show that Mr Li had scandalised the judiciary:

  • Far from being a private person not accustomed to the media spotlight, Mr Li has given many interviews to “friendly foreign media” in his capacity as Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s grandson.

  • The risk of his post being republished was “entirely foreseeable”. At the time, the Oxley Road saga was fresh in the public’s mind and his “inflammatory comments” meant that the “potential for widespread dissemination is very clear”.

  • Mr Li was “acutely aware” that his Facebook posts were “fully capable of generating headlines” as he was part of the Lee family.

  • The friends-only post remains up on Mr Li’s page and the phrase “pliant court system” has been removed.

Ms Low said that Mr Li did not publicly clarify or disclose what the amendment to his post was, as he “clearly intends for the sting of the post to remain in the public domain”.

The fact that he later amended the post was also “telling because it shows he accepts the original post could carry a contemptuous meaning”, Ms Low added.

Any reasonable person reading the post would think that Singapore’s legal system was not robust and did not command public confidence, she said.

Ms Low further told the court that an inference could be drawn as to Mr Li’s Facebook friends list being large, given that an AGC officer, who “has no connection” to Mr Li, already had 15 mutual friends with him.

Mr Li had also sent his defence affidavit to several “selected” foreign media organisations in breach of the Supreme Court’s practice directions, as well as Singapore news media CNA after Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post published an article on the affidavit

“He was clearly using the proceedings as a platform to launch collateral attacks for a political purpose. He also publicly disclosed on Facebook that he had filed his defence affidavit,” Ms Low added.

Reiterating AGC’s stance on why Mr Li withdrew from legal proceedings, she alleged that Mr Li knew that answering AGC’s questions on oath would “expose his lies”.

As the hearing wrapped up, Ms Low argued for a default jail term of two weeks to be imposed if Mr Li does not pay the fine.

The case has seen numerous twists and turns. Mr Li previously appealed the High Court’s decision to allow AGC to serve legal papers on him in the US.

The Court of Appeal ruled in April last year that the papers had been properly served.

Related topics

Li Shengwu Lee Hsien Loong Attorney-General's Chambers Lee Hsien Yang contempt of court 38 Oxley Road

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