Blogger Ngerng weeps and keeps saying sorry
Blogger Roy Ngerng cries twice in court during emotionally charged session as Prime Minister's lawyer cross-examines him in libel damages hearing
Tears, raised voices and apologies.
A gamut of emotions was on full display in the High Court yesterday as blogger Roy Ngerng continued to be cross-examined by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, who is representing Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
It was the third day of the hearing to determine the damages to be awarded to PM Lee, who had successfully sued Mr Ngerng for defamation.
The court had earlier ruled in a summary judgment that Mr Ngerng had defamed Mr Lee. (See report above.)
During Mr Ngerng's second day under cross-examination, he broke down twice.
The blogger first choked up midway through the morning session when Mr Singh was pressing him about his "limited financial means", a point he used to back up his offer of paying $5,000 in damages to the Prime Minister.
Mr Ngerng, who is unemployed, was teary when he spoke about how he is now digging into his savings and depending on his parents for financial help.
Further questioning by Mr Singh revealed that of the $110,000 Mr Ngerng had raised from crowd-funding last year, $70,000 went to his previous lawyer, Mr M. Ravi.
Another $35,000 went to paying for Mr Lee's legal costs - $29,000 for the initial defamation suit in February and $6,000 for the hearing last month to bring in a Queen's Counsel from the UK.
The remainder was used to pay his previous lawyer, Mr George Hwang, and for filing fees. But it was not enough and he had to use his savings.
He discharged Mr Hwang last week and has been representing himself in court.
Mr Ngerng was also given £5,000 (S$10,500) by London-based Media Legal Defence Initiative as financial assistance for the case.
He met the organisation in London while on a trip sponsored by human rights organisation Article 19.
The involvement of foreign organisations was something that got Mr Ngerng worked up a second time towards the end of the morning session.
During his cross-examination, it was also revealed that he had filed amicus (friend of the court) briefs from foreign organisations.
Documents from the International Commission of Jurists and Center for Law in the Philippines were submitted together with Mr Ngerng's opening statement on Wednesday.
Mr Singh charged that this was an attempt to "put pressure on the courts".
Furthermore, despite apologising several times, Mr Ngerng had not shown that he was sincere about it and continued to blog about the court proceedings, even putting up Mr Lee's affidavit and letter of demand on his blog, he added.
Choking up and raising his voice, Mr Ngerng said: "I'm worried that after today I won't be able to speak up because I don't know what you will do.
"That's why I've been rushing to put up articles on my blog. I don't care if you believe it but (the Central Provident Fund or CPF) is something I feel very strongly about," he said, sobbing loudly.
His voice cracking, he continued: "We all know I'm being persecuted because I've spoken up on the CPF.
"And the PM said (on Wednesday) that he has been waiting to sue me... I do not hate the PM and I sincerely apologise to him, but we need to speak up for the people."
His assistant, Ms Janet Low, was also in tears.
In response, Justice Lee Seiu Kin asked if Mr Ngerng could still continue giving evidence and broke the session for lunch when he asked for a break.
When the session resumed after lunch, Mr Ngerng, in his re-examination of himself, again apologised for what he said, but emphasised that he had criticised the Government, not the Prime Minister.
Throughout the day, he apologised for his actions at least a dozen times.
Both sides will make written submissions on the case by Aug 31 and the judge will decide at a later date if oral submissions are also needed.
Exchanges in court
Senior Counsel Davinder Singh
On Mr Roy Ngerng aggravating the situation by continuing to blog about it
Senior Counsel Davinder Singh (DS): Far from being shocked or scared, every step of the way, you were calculative, you were lying. Roy Ngerng (RN): I disagree. On the first day of the (hearing) when the Prime Minister (Lee Hsien Loong) said that he was waiting to sue me... he read all the CPF (Central Provident Fund) articles (on the Heart Truths blog)...
You should go and talk to your client. He is the one that is calculative... I'm going to put it in my submissions that he was calculative. DS: Thank you, Mr Ngerng. For all your apologies, you are now attacking him (Mr Lee).
After Mr Ngerng constantly refuted what Mr Singh said while giving background for his questions
DS: Your Honour, this witness is not responsive. Please, Mr Ngerng. If you're going to do this, we're not going to finish (the hearing) today. Justice Lee Seiu Kin(to RN): You have to let (Mr Singh) finish asking the question. DS (to RN): When you do this, it would suggest to the court that you are panicking that you got caught. Please, do not betray your true thoughts.
On Mr Ngerng introducing amicus (friend of the court) briefs from foreign organisations to "put pressure" on the court
DS: You chose to use foreign organisations to campaign against Singapore. RN: Mr Singh! Mr Lee is not Singapore.
I chose to comment on (an) issue that (is) about Singapore. Please bear in mind the contradiction you're making and please do not mislead the court again... DS: He is asking the court to not award damages. While (Mr Ngerng) says please accept his sincere apologise, he is taking a course of action designed to aggravate...
He puts his limited (financial) means as a show that he is sincere, but at the same time, he uses foreign organisations to advance his agenda, a political agenda...
Justice Lee: ...I must clarify I feel absolutely no pressure from any organisation.
After Mr Singh continues pressing Mr Ngerng on the use of foreign organisations, Mr Ngerng raises his voice
RN: Over the last two days, you heap accusation after accusation on me. And when you make any mistake, you do not admit it...
I don't know if you can see how ridiculous this is that you're pinning this on me, that someone of your station would heap this on someone like me, a layman.
If you have any more accusations, you can make it during submissions because this is getting uncomfortable. DS: (I'm suggesting that) you used the organisations to send a message to the court that it's going against human rights.
RN: No! I think you're overstepping your boundaries a bit.
Some of the exchanges have been edited for length.
ABOUT THE CASE
In the May 15 post last year on his blog, The Heart Truths, Mr Roy Ngerng juxtaposed a Channel NewsAsia chart detailing the relationship among City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders against his own chart of the purported ties between the Central Provident Fund (CPF) and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and sovereign wealth fund GIC.
Six current and former CHC leaders are on trial for the alleged misuse of $50 million in church funds.
Justice Lee Seiu Kin noted that the case "has come to be associated with the criminal misappropriation of funds in the mind of any ordinary, reasonable person".
He also noted that, in Mr Ngerng's post, "the allegation that 'money is being misappropriated' is unconditional and unequivocal".
It contains as well an implicit comparison between the lack of information given to auditors in the CHC case and the lack of transparency with regard to CPF monies, Justice Lee said.
He added that it carries the implication that Mr Lee is reluctant to be transparent about the finances of the Government and GIC "because he wants to conceal the evidence of the criminal misappropriation".
In issuing a summary judgment - which means giving a ruling without the case going to trial because the court agrees with the applicant that the defence's arguments are baseless - Justice Lee said he could not accept Mr Ngerng's only defence, which is that the lawsuit is unconstitutional.
He also ruled that Mr Ngerng could not republish the allegation of criminal misappropriation, though his freedom of speech would not be curtailed.
The blogger has continued to blog about the CPF issue.