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TOC defamation trial: Animosity from siblings evident, but PM Lee hopes that ‘matters can be repaired’ one day

SINGAPORE — While his relationship with his siblings is “not in the best state” and “animosity is evident” on their end, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that he and his wife Ho Ching do not want the family feud to continue.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and Mr Terry Xu, chief editor of The Online Citizen, arriving at the Supreme Court on Nov 30, 2020.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (left) and Mr Terry Xu, chief editor of The Online Citizen, arriving at the Supreme Court on Nov 30, 2020.


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  • Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took the witness stand on the first day of his defamation trial against Mr Terry Xu
  • Mr Xu is chief editor of socio-political website The Online Citizen
  • The trial centres around a TOC article related to the 38 Oxley Road saga
  • Mr Xu’s lawyer Lim Tean cross-examined Mr Lee on issues such as his relationship with his siblings


SINGAPORE — While his relationship with his siblings is “not in the best state” and “animosity is evident” on their end, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that he and his wife Ho Ching do not want the family feud to continue.

“I hope against hope that one day, matters can be repaired. But it’s one of those things that happen in life and this, too, shall pass,” he said on Monday (Nov 30), the first day of his defamation trial.

PM Lee is suing the chief editor of socio-political website The Online Citizen (TOC), Mr Terry Xu, for libel over an article published in August last year.

The article was titled “PM Lee’s wife Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members”, referring to an article she posted on Facebook that was 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 the death of their father and Singapore’s founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

PM Lee is seeking damages, including aggravated damages, an injunction to restrain Mr Xu from publishing or disseminating the allegations, and costs.

The TOC article, PM Lee’s lawyers have said, contains false allegations repeated from his siblings that gravely injure his character and reputation.

It also referenced a Facebook post written by Dr Lee earlier that year, in which she said that PM Lee misled their father into believing that the Oxley Road house had been gazetted by the Government.

Mr Xu named PM Lee’s siblings as third parties in the lawsuit but will not be calling them to testify. 

Mr Xu's lawyer, Mr Lim Tean, said on Monday that it was likely Mr Xu would be discontinuing third party proceedings against them as well.


Mr Lim spent Monday morning cross-examining the Prime Minister, who is represented by a team of five lawyers led by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh.

Both Mr Lim and Mr Singh previously faced off about two months ago when PM Lee’s defamation suit against blogger Leong Sze Hian went to trial.

When Mr Lim questioned the Prime Minister on whether he and Mdm Ho thought his siblings were “judging and gossiping about you”, PM Lee replied: "I have a disagreement with my siblings, unfortunately, and our relations are not in the best state. Everyone knows that.”

He later added: “I think animosity is evident on one side from my siblings… I do not think, on (my and my wife’s) side, we really want this to continue or hold anything against them.”

Referring to the TOC article, Mr Lim said that the feud between him and his siblings was “obvious”.

PM Lee responded that he had detached himself from the issue by selling the Oxley Road property to his brother and recusing himself from the Government’s handling of the property.

“I have never done Facebook posts or criticised them publicly. I have not said anything other than ministerial statements,” he said.

“Your wife has no animosity to your siblings?” Mr Lim questioned.

“Indeed. I’m not speaking on her behalf but I believe so,” PM Lee replied.

The lawyer then asked: “Why is it that you did not invite them for Chinese New Year after your father died?”

Senior Counsel Singh objected to the question and Justice Audrey Lim agreed that the question was not relevant, reminding Mr Lim to stick to his client’s defence.


Mr Lim also pressed PM Lee to answer why he chose not to sue his siblings, adding that it was “understandable” that Mr Xu thought he could refer to what they said.

“It is not understandable,” PM Lee replied. “What I’ve explained in Parliament is that not anyone can say anything about the house. It’s not carte blanche for anyone else to use that to spread allegations and further defame me.”

When Mr Lim asked if he meant that journalists cannot report on his siblings’ allegations, he said that they could “report anything subject to the laws of defamation”.

The lawyer probed him further on how his character and reputation was injured, which would lead to loss and damages.

In response, PM Lee said the TOC article “made very grave allegations against me” and was “read by a substantial number of people”.

Mr Lim then asked PM Lee about his performance at the recent General Election (GE) in July this year. 

“You did very well in the last General Election, did you not?” asked Mr Lim, who was also a GE candidate with the political party Peoples Voice. 

“I won the elections,” PM Lee said, adding that it was “not a referendum on 38 Oxley Road”.

“The GE is a test of your integrity and reputation, is it not?” the lawyer questioned.

“If counsel wants to go in this direction, in 2015 (the People’s Action Party) won 69 per cent. In 2020, we won 61 per cent of the popular vote. I do not accept that it’s because of the house but if I accept counsel’s argument, the house did a lot of harm,” PM Lee said.


Under cross-examination, PM Lee also revealed that he had not read Mdm Ho’s Facebook post that led to the TOC article.

“I would have gone to read what my wife said but she didn’t say anything. TOC said she shared it. My wife reads often and shares widely. I have full confidence in her judgement,” he added.

Mr Lim then asked him if it was reasonable for anyone reading Mdm’s Ho post, given the background and context of the dispute, to draw the inference that it was a commentary on his family’s dispute. 

PM Lee said he disagreed with that statement. 


Before the cross examination on Monday, both parties tendered their opening statements to the court.

A summary of PM Lee’s case is as follows: 

  • Readers of the TOC article will think that PM Lee misled his father into thinking that the Government would gazette the Oxley Road house and it was futile for Lee Kuan Yew to keep his direction to demolish it

  • They will also think PM Lee caused his father to consider other alternatives to demolition and change his will to bequeath the house to PM Lee

  • Readers will believe that Lee Kuan Yew removed PM Lee as an executor and trustee of his will after learning in late 2013 that the Government did not gazette the property

A summary of Mr Xu’s defence is as follows: 

  • The alleged defamatory statements, when read in the context of the whole article, meant it was ironic for Mdm Ho to share the post “given the publicised poor relationship” between PM Lee and his siblings

  • Readers will know it was Mdm Ho who shared the post and the “so-called irony” had nothing to do with PM Lee

The trial continues on Tuesday morning with PM Lee on the witness stand again. He will be the only plaintiff witness.

Related topics

Terry Xu Lee Hsien Loong defamation TOC court

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