Singapore

Li Shengwu fined $15,000 for contempt

He will have to serve default sentence of a week's jail if he does not pay fine within two weeks

The High Court yesterday sentenced economist Li Shengwu to a $15,000 fine after finding him guilty of contempt by scandalising the court in a Facebook post he had made in July 2017.

If he does not pay the fine within two weeks, he will have to serve a default sentence of one week's jail.

Mr Li was also ordered to pay $8,500 in legal costs and $8,070.69 for disbursements to the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC).

Mr Li, who said in January that he would no longer participate in the contempt proceedings, was absent from court.

The 35-year-old, an assistant professor at Harvard University in the United States, later responded with a Facebook post saying he disagreed with the judgment.

Mr Li is the son of Mr Lee Hsien Yang, the brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In his July 15, 2017, post, Mr Li wrote that the Singapore Government is "very litigious and has a pliant court system".

The post was related to the ongoing family dispute involving his father, his aunt Lee Wei Ling, and PM Lee over the Oxley Road home of their late father and Singapore's founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

Mr Li's post also included a link to a 2010 New York Times editorial that criticised his grandfather.

A screenshot of the post was soon circulated on websites and picked up by mainstream media.

AMENDED POST

On July 21, 2017, the AGC asked Mr Li to take down his post and issue an apology.

He amended the post but did not delete it or apologise.

On Aug 4, 2017, the AGC started contempt proceedings against Mr Li.

In his judgment yesterday, Justice Kannan Ramesh found that Mr Li's post posed a real risk of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice.

He said: "It is clear that the post conveys the meaning that the judiciary is not independent and impartial, and is susceptible to influence or pressure from the Government where legal proceedings are brought by its leaders."

The judge rejected Mr Li's argument that the post was private as it was visible only to his Facebook friends.

This argument, he added, skirted the core issue of whether it was reasonably foreseeable that the post would be republished.

RISK OF REPUBLICATION

Pointing to court rulings in the US and New Zealand, Justice Ramesh said: "There is no justifiable expectation of privacy even where a Facebook post is published on a 'Friends' only setting."

In fact, Facebook itself warns of the risk of republication, he added.

Justice Ramesh said Mr Li ought to have foreseen the risk of dissemination, given the significant interest in the Oxley Road dispute at the time, and that the post came from a member of the family at the heart of the dispute - which arguably lent it credence in the eyes of the public.

Lawyers not connected to the case said if the fine is not paid in two weeks, the AGC can go to court to apply for a warrant of arrest.

This means that if Mr Li comes back to Singapore, he could be arrested to serve the default jail term, said lawyer Shashi Nathan.

COURT & CRIME