SINGAPORE — The contempt of court hearing against Li Shengwu, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s nephew, over a Facebook post in 2017 was heard on Thursday (2 June), with Li absent from the courtroom.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) argued in front of Justice Kannan Ramesh that Li, an assistant professor of economics at Harvard, ought to be fined $15,000 over his Facebook post, which the AGC said was guilty of scandalising contempt. Li is the eldest son of PM Lee’s younger brother, Lee Hsien Yang.
Justice Ramesh reserved judgement at the end of the hearing and will give the verdict at a later date.
The AGC argued on Thursday that the fine it was seeking took into account the “nature and gravity of Mr Li’s contemptuous allegation, the widespread republication of his statement, and his clear lack of remorse and reprehensible conduct in these proceedings”.
It added that a substantial fine was necessary to deter Li and like-minded offenders from “making similar baseless allegations impugning the independence of the Singapore Judiciary”.
In July 2017, Li, 34, allegedly stated in a Facebook post that Singapore had a "pliant court system" and that the Singapore Government was "very litigious”, prompting the AGC to take him to court over possible contempt of court. The comments were made in relation to an ongoing family feud between PM Lee and his siblings over the late first Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's house at 38 Oxley Road.
Li then applied to set aside the court order that granted the AGC permission to serve papers on him in the US, but had his application dismissed by the High Court in March 2018. Li appealed against the decision in the Court of Appeal, but this too was dismissed on 1 April last year.
On 22 January this year, Li posted on his Facebook that he would no longer participate in contempt of court proceedings against him, saying that he would not “dignify the AGC's conduct by my participation”. He also discharged his lawyer Abraham Vergis.
On Thursday’s hearing, Li was absent, and had no lawyer present for the proceedings.
Representing AGC, Deputy Chief Counsel Low Siew Ling argued that Li’s post posed a “real risk” of undermining public confidence in the administration of justice. She also stated that Li’s attack on the judiciary was unfounded.
Li’s post was published directly to his Facebook friends, which comprised a substantial number of people in Singapore, including members of the media, said Low.
Li could have foreseen that his post would make it to the public domain given that he was the grandson of Lee Kuan Yew, and held himself out to the public as being qualified to comment on Singapore’s politics and media on account of his connection to the Lee family, said Low.
His claims about the government and the judiciary would hence have attracted widespread public and media interest, said the AGC.
Response by Li
In response to the hearing, Li said the case has taken three years and thousands of pages of legal documents.
“The whole course of events reflects poorly on the government and its priorities,” Li said.
Li also noted that the AGC applied to conceal parts of his defence affidavit, with the result that they were not available to the court on 2 July, and cannot be found in the public record. “This behaviour by the AGC is one reason why I decided not to participate in the proceedings against me,” Li said.
Separately, Li quoted a comment by Law Minister K Shanmugam in parliament in August 2016, “...I cannot see how putting up a Facebook post poses a real risk of prejudicing proceedings unless you are the Prime Minister with a million followers and everybody reads what you say”.
“Maybe if there were more opposition MPs, the minister would speak more carefully,” Li said.
Yahoo News Singapore has reached out to Li for comment.
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