Singapore

Not suing siblings does not mean carte blanche to defame me: PM Lee

PM Lee says he is not obliged to sue everyone in order to sue one person

Not suing his siblings over statements they made regarding their 38 Oxley Road family home did not mean "carte blanche" for anyone else to use what they had said to defame him, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

He was testifying on day one of a week-long hearing for his libel suit against Mr Terry Xu, editor of The Online Citizen (TOC) website.

The suit involves a TOC article published in August last year, titled "PM Lee's wife, Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members".

The piece referenced a Facebook post made by PM Lee's sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling, in which she claimed he had misled their late father and founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew into thinking 38 Oxley Road had been gazetted by the Government.

The TOC article contained "sensational" allegations that gravely injured PM Lee's character and reputation, his lawyers have said.

In his cross-examination, Mr Xu's lawyer Lim Tean said that since PM Lee had chosen not to sue his siblings over their allegations, it was "understandable" that the TOC editor thought he could refer to what they had said.

Disagreeing, PM Lee said: "On the allegations made by my siblings, I had decided to take a different approach with them, and it did not mean carte blanche for anybody else to use that to spread those allegations and further defame me.

"I'm not obliged to sue everybody in order to sue one person. I talked to my counsel and made the decision whom to sue."

Mr Lim then asked: "Are you suggesting to Singapore and Singaporeans that the media can never report on what your siblings have accused you of, when it is a matter of intense public interest?"

PM Lee said they could, subject to defamation laws.

Mr Lim asked if this meant reporting on his side of the story only.

"Not at all," the prime minister responded.

"They can report what they think needs to come out and if I sue them for defamation and I'm wrong, they can go to court, vindicate themselves and demolish me - which is what I believe you're hoping to do in this trial."

He pointed out that Mr Xu, in an article that garnered more than 100,000 views, had repeated allegations he had previously rebutted. Those who had not followed the case and its details would believe what was written, he said.

Mr Lim asked: "Your siblings have been making charges against you since 2017... so you are content to let your siblings butcher your reputation?"

MINISTERIAL STATEMENTS

PM Lee said he had dealt with their accusations in two ministerial statements in Parliament.

He added that he had also republished his ministerial statements outside Parliament, thereby waiving his parliamentary privilege. This would allow his siblings to sue him over the statements, but they have not done so, he pointed out.

PM Lee said he was hoping to avoid a lawsuit when he decided to send a letter to Mr Xu through his press secretary instead of his lawyers.

He also rejected a suggestion by Mr Lim that he was trying to intimidate Mr Xu into removing an article and Facebook post by using the status of the Prime Minister's Office.

PM Lee said he had exercised "exceptional forbearance" in issuing the letter as he would have sent a formal letter of demand in any other case.

In sending the letter through his office, he thought "perhaps TOC and Mr Xu would get the message and would be prepared, in the national interest, to do the right thing and apologise to me, take down the post and close the matter. Unfortunately, it was not to be".

On Sept 1 last year, PM Lee's press secretary sent Mr Xu a letter asking him to take the article down and issue a "full and unconditional apology".

PM Lee sued for libel after Mr Xu refused to do so.

COURT & CRIME