TOC article ‘gravely injured’ PM Lee’s character and reputation, say lawyers seeking aggravated damages in defamation suit
SINGAPORE — In launching a defamation suit against the editor of The Online Citizen (TOC), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s lawyers are arguing that an article published by the website contained “false and baseless” allegations, including that Mr Lee had misled his late father into thinking their Oxley Road property had been gazetted by the Government.
SINGAPORE — In launching a defamation suit against the editor of The Online Citizen (TOC), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s lawyers are arguing that an article published by the website contained “false and baseless” allegations, such as the statement that Mr Lee misled his late father into thinking their Oxley Road property had been gazetted by the Government.
Outlining their grounds for the lawsuit against Mr Terry Xu, the lawyers from Davinder Singh Chambers LLC said in a statement of claim that PM Lee “has been gravely injured in his character and reputation, and has been brought into public scandal, odium and contempt”.
The statement and a writ of summons were served on Mr Xu at his home on Thursday (Sept 5) by the lawyers.
PM Lee is embroiled in a dispute with his siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, over the fate of their 38 Oxley Road family home after the death of their father, Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.
On Aug 15, TOC first published the article titled “PM Lee’s wife Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members”. A link to the article was also posted on its Facebook page.
PM Lee’s press secretary Chang Li Lin issued a letter to TOC on Sept 1, demanding that it remove the article and publish an apology. Ms Chang called it a “scurrilous” attack on the prime minister’s character and integrity.
Ms Chang said in the letter that the article and Facebook post repeated several false allegations that were levelled against PM Lee by Dr Lee.
The article was later taken down but the Facebook post remained up.
Mr Xu responded on Sept 4 to say he was “of the opinion” that the article was not defamatory and he would not comply with PM Lee’s request.
He argued that he was “merely republishing the words uttered by (PM Lee’s) siblings”. The article was then reposted on TOC.
‘CALCULATED TO DISPARAGE AND IMPUGN’
In a copy of the statement of claim seen by TODAY, PM Lee’s lawyers noted that there was “substantial publication” of the article in Singapore.
Notably, it was republished on various websites and blogs such as Hardwarezone. As of 4.35pm on Sept 1, the Facebook post had been “shared” 1,835 times on various social media platforms, with 192 people sharing it on Facebook.
The post, which all members of the public could view, also “attracted hundreds of ‘reactions’ and comments”, the lawyers stated.
As for the content of the article, the lawyers said the “offending words… meant and were understood to mean” that PM Lee caused his father to consider other alternatives to demolition of the Oxley Road home, and to change his will to bequeath the house to PM Lee.
The lawyers also said that the article had alleged that Mr Lee removed PM Lee as an executor and trustee of his will, after he learned in late 2013 that the property had not been gazetted.
“The offending words are false and baseless and were calculated to disparage and impugn the plaintiff as well as in his office as the prime minister,” the lawyers stated.
PM Lee is also claiming damages, an injunction that Mr Xu is restrained from publishing or disseminating the allegations, and costs.
His lawyers noted that they would rely on the following facts to recover aggravated damages:
The nature and gravity of the libel
The mode, extent and timing of its publication
Malice on the part of Mr Xu, as he had published his letter in response to Ms Chang on TOC and reposted the article on Wednesday
Mr Xu has eight days to file a notice that he will be defending himself against the suit.