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PM Lee seeks aggravated damages in libel suit against writer of TOC article on Oxley Road saga

SINGAPORE — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is seeking an unspecified amount of damages, including aggravated damages, from the writer of an article published on sociopolitical website The Online Citizen about the 38 Oxley Road saga.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrives at the High Court for the trial of the defamation suit against blogger Leong Sze Hian on Oct 6, 2020.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrives at the High Court for the trial of the defamation suit against blogger Leong Sze Hian on Oct 6, 2020.

  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has sued Ms Rubaashini Shunmuganathan, a Malaysian, for defamation
  • She wrote an article for The Online Citizen about the 38 Oxley Road saga, over which PM Lee is also suing TOC’s chief editor
  • She did not respond and was thus found liable for damages
  • A High Court judge has not ruled on the amount of damages she has to pay

 

SINGAPORE — Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is seeking an unspecified amount of damages, including aggravated damages, from the writer of an article published on sociopolitical website The Online Citizen about the 38 Oxley Road saga.

PM Lee sued Ms Rubaashini Shunmuganathan for defamation in November 2019, shortly after similarly filing a defamation lawsuit against TOC’s chief editor Terry Xu over the article. 

Mr Xu had told Ms Rubaashini, a Malaysian, to write the article and said at the time that he needed “some creative writing”. 

Mr Xu’s case went to trial in the High Court late last year, with PM Lee and himself testifying. A judge has yet to decide if he is liable for damages.

As for the libel lawsuit against Ms Rubaashini, PM Lee obtained a judgement in default of appearance in December 2019. 

This means that she was found liable for damages as she did not respond within the stipulated time after being served with a writ of summons. She was then deemed to have admitted to all the allegations brought against her.

A hearing was then held in the High Court on Monday (May 31) to determine the amount of damages that Ms Rubaashini has to pay. 

However, Justice Audrey Lim — who also presided over Mr Xu’s trial — did not give a decision as PM Lee’s personal lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, asked for three more weeks to file written closing submissions.

PM Lee appeared in court through video-conferencing platform Zoom for about five minutes on Monday. He confirmed that he filed two affidavits of evidence-in-chief earlier this year, which set out his case for damages from Ms Rubaashini.

THE CASE

Both of the libel lawsuits brought by PM Lee centre around an article published in TOC in August 2019, titled: “PM Lee’s wife Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members”.

Madam Ho had earlier shared a link to an article titled: “Here is why sometimes it is okay to cut ties with toxic family members”.

Since 2017, PM Lee has been embroiled in a dispute with his siblings — Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang — over the fate of their family home at 38 Oxley Road after their father Lee Kuan Yew’s death in 2015.

In his affidavit filed in January this year, PM Lee said that the TOC article “contained sensational allegations against me… which were likely to attract a great deal of attention and go viral on the Internet and on social networking sites”.

He noted that a “very significant number of persons” viewed the article. It was read about 114,000 times within about three months of its publication, and a post on TOC’s Facebook page containing the link had “reached” about 40,000 people within the same period.

SHE PERSONALLY RECEIVED DOCUMENTS

In his affidavit, PM Lee noted that on Aug 15, 2019, Mr Xu sent Ms Rubaashini the link to Mdm Ho’s article on workplace messaging application Slack. He told her he needed “some creative writing” and provided her with a list of points.

She sent him a draft about four hours later. He approved it within nine minutes, saying: “Very good! No edits needed”, and published it on the TOC website.

The article author was initially listed as “Kiara Xavier”, but it was edited to reflect Ms Rubaashini’s name around a month later on Sept 18, 2019.

PM Lee then sued Mr Xu in early September that year when the editor reposted the article on TOC.

On Oct 21, PM Lee’s lawyers sent Ms Rubaashini a letter through email, Facebook Messenger and LinkedIn, asking her to “immediately take steps to remove the article”, publish an apology and compensate him with damages.

Ms Rubaashini did not respond to this. PM Lee then filed a writ of summons, which is used to commence civil proceedings, on Nov 5.

Then, on Dec 4, a process server employed by a Malaysian law firm personally served on her the writ, a statement of claim and an order of court granting PM Lee leave to serve the documents outside Singapore jurisdiction.

She admitted to being Ms Rubaashini when she received the documents at her Selangor address, Senior Counsel Singh told the court on Monday.

When she did not respond, she was personally served several documents up till Jan 22 this year.

In May, her brother claimed that she no longer lived at that address. The documents were also sent to her through her two email addresses but she has not responded.

Senior Counsel Singh noted that in January, her name “reappeared” in the About Us page on TOC’s website and she has continued contributing articles.

Justice Lim ordered the lawyer to file his closing submissions by June 21. He also has to send a copy to Ms Rubaashini through email as well as leave one at her earlier address.

As for PM Lee’s defamation lawsuit against Mr Xu, he is also seeking damages, including aggravated damages, an injunction to restrain Mr Xu from publishing or disseminating the allegations, and costs.

PM Lee’s lawyers noted that where prime ministers have been accused of dishonesty or misleading others or both, the Singapore courts have awarded damages between S$300,000 and S$330,000.

In February, while giving their closing submissions, the lawyers said that Mr Xu had exhibited malice and aggravating conduct that was worse than those previous cases.

Related topics

defamation Lee Hsien Loong Terry Xu 38 Oxley Road court

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