Singapore

PM Lee to take witness stand in defamation trial against blogger Leong Sze Hian

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will take the stand when his defamation trial against financial adviser and blogger Leong Sze Hian begins in the High Court next month.

The hearing, set for Oct 6 to 9, was confirmed at a pre-trial conference with Justice Aedit Abdullah yesterday.

Replying to queries from The Straits Times, a spokesman for PM Lee said the Prime Minister will give evidence and be cross-examined.

In a Facebook post after the conference, Mr Leong's lawyer Lim Tean wrote: "The expert witness who is to be called by PM Lee, Dr Tuan Quang Phan, will give evidence via video link from Hong Kong."

Dr Phan is an associate professor of marketing, innovation and information management at Hong Kong University Business School.

PM Lee filed the suit over a post shared by Mr Leong on Facebook on Nov 7, 2018, which had a link to an article by Malaysian news site The Coverage.

It contained allegations that former Malaysian PM Najib Razak had signed "secret deals" with PM Lee in exchange for Singapore banks' help in laundering money from 1Malaysia Development Berhad or 1MDB.

In papers filed in court, PM Lee's legal team said the allegations were "false and baseless", and it was clear Mr Leong had published the post "maliciously and to damage our client".

He is seeking aggravated damages and an injunction to prevent Mr Leong from publishing or disseminating the defamatory allegations, or other allegations of complicity in matters relating to the embattled sovereign wealth fund.

In his defence, Mr Leong denied he was being malicious.

He said in court papers that he took down his Facebook post on Nov 10 that year after being told to do so by the Infocomm Media Development Authority.

He also argued that the article, on how Singapore and PM Lee had become targets of the investigation into 1MDB, was "a matter of public interest... whether or not it was correct". - THE STRAITS TIMES

COURT & CRIME