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Libel case: Leong Sze Hian has large following, falsehoods had 'potential to cause serious harm', says PM Lee

SINGAPORE — Blogger Leong Sze Hian “had a widespread following” on Facebook, which meant an article he shared, alleging that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had helped Malaysia’s former premier Najib Razak to launder money from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), would have been seen by many.

Libel case: Leong Sze Hian has large following, falsehoods had 'potential to cause serious harm', says PM Lee

Blogger Leong Sze Hian “had a widespread following” on Facebook, which meant an article he shared, alleging that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had helped Malaysia’s former premier Najib Razak to launder money from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), would have been seen by many, asserted Mr Lee in court documents seen by TODAY.

SINGAPORE — Blogger Leong Sze Hian “had a widespread following” on Facebook, which meant an article he shared, alleging that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had helped Malaysia’s former premier Najib Razak to launder money from 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), would have been seen by many.

And even though the post itself drew 22 reactions, five comments and 18 shares, it was set to “public”, which meant that it, and the article it linked to, could have been seen by “all Facebook users and the public in Singapore at large”.

Mr Lee made these assertions against Mr Leong, whom he is suing for libel, in court documents seen by TODAY on Wednesday (Feb 27).

The documents were filed in response to a counterclaim filed by Mr Leong after he was sued by Mr Lee in November last year.

In his counterclaim, Mr Leong argued that the lawsuit was an “abuse of the process of the court”.

Mr Leong, represented by lawyer and opposition party leader Lim Tean, is filing to strike out the entire suit

But Mr Lee, represented by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, is applying to strike out the counterclaim.

Mr Lee said in his affidavit: “The libel was a very serious one and went to the heart of whether I am fit to be the Prime Minister of Singapore.”

The article, titled "Breaking News: Singapore Lee Hsien Loong Becomes 1MDB's Key Investigation Target — Najib Signed Several Unfair Agreements With Hsien Loong In Exchange for Money Laundering", was carried on Malaysian website The Coverage on Nov 7.

The article was originally published by the States Times Review two days earlier, but it was the version by The Coverage that Mr Leong, 65, shared on Facebook on Nov 7, without any accompanying caption.

He took the post down on Nov 10, and was sent a letter by Mr Lee’s lawyers on Nov 12

In his affidavit, Mr Lee stressed that the article was “false and baseless and contained very grave allegations made against me”.

“They attacked my integrity and sought to undermine my reputation and standing.

“These allegations were all the more serious because they were made against me in my capacity as the Prime Minister of Singapore and had the potential to cause serious harm to me in the discharge of my functions in office,” he wrote.

On Mr Leong’s post, Mr Lee said “it is clear from objective facts” that a significant number of people in Singapore — not just Mr Leong’s Facebook friends and followers — would have had access to the post and/or the article.

Among various reasons cited, Mr Lee said Mr Leong himself claimed to have a “wide readership among Singaporeans and in Singapore”.

He added that the blogger also directs many of his Facebook posts to Singaporeans, and “discusses issues that relate to Singapore and Singaporeans”.

Even if the access to the article was limited to the few who reacted or commented on the article, Mr Lee said it was by no means “minimal” or “inconsequential”, as Mr Leong has claimed.

He also noted that Mr Leong has refused to issue an apology or sign an undertaking not to make any such similar allegations.

“Instead, he has used this suit to wage a public campaign to gain sympathy and support.

“In the process, he has cynically drawn attention to the article to keep it fresh in the minds of people in Singapore,” the Prime Minister added.

“As an individual who has been falsely defamed, I am entitled to vindicate my reputation.

“I gave (Mr Leong) a reasonable opportunity to apologise and to resolve the matter. He refused to do so,” wrote Mr Lee.

He added: “While anyone, including the defendant, is entitled to criticise me or my policies, no one has the right to falsely defame.”

Mr Lee said that “in all (the) time” that Mr Leong had written “a large number” of articles criticising government policies, “I did not sue the defendant”.

“This time, however, he has falsely defamed me and has impugned my integrity and reputation. He will have every opportunity to defend himself when he takes the stand to be cross-examined. I hope he takes that opportunity and will not go into hiding again,” Mr Lee wrote.

On Monday, a closed-door hearing on the case, lasting more than three hours, took place in the High Court.

Justice Aedit Abdullah reserved his judgment. A written judgment will be delivered at a later, unspecified date.

 

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