The financial adviser and blogger who was sued for defamation by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong earlier this month on Wednesday (26 December) announced on Facebook that he has filed his defence and counterclaim against Lee.
“Whilst it may be my name on the case file, this action is bigger than my name, bigger than just the one ordinary Singaporean that I am,” wrote Leong Sze Hian. “It is for every Singaporean today who has ever shared a post on Facebook, for every child who will share a post on Facebook and for the unborn generations to come.”
A copy of a two-page statement by Carson Law Chambers, the firm representing Leong in his suit against Lee, as well as Leong’s defence and counterclaim were also attached to his Facebook post.
The statement, signed off by Peoples Voice leader and lawyer Lim Tean, was similarly posted on Carson Law Chambers’ and Lim’s Facebook pages respectively on Wednesday.
Describing Lee’s claim as “an abuse of the process of the court”, Lim, who runs Carson, highlighted in the statement that no legal action has been brought against The Coverage or The States Times Review, Facebook or any other individual Singaporean “who took the same action as our client”.
“In his defence and counterclaim, Leong Sze Hian pleads that he only had the post up for three days and removed it immediately upon receipt of an order from the IMDA (Info-communications Media Development Authority),” said Lim. “He challenged the Prime Minister’s case on meaning, on the extent of publication and re-publication and on malice.”
He added, “He does not assert that what the article said or is alleged to have said was true.”
The purpose of Lee’s claim is believed “to chill freedom of speech ahead of both the trial of Najib Razak and a likely General Election in Singapore next year”, Lim’s statement concluded.
According to Leong’s 17-page defence and counterclaim, he is seeking compensation for damage to his reputation. The documents also stated that Leong shared the post at a time when the government’s rebuttal to the articles in The Coverage or The States Times Review “was widely known to the Singapore public”.
Lim confirmed with Yahoo News Singapore that he is acting as lead counsel in Leong’s case. In his post on Facebook, the lawyer said that he “did not hesitate for a moment in accepting the brief from Mr Leong” after learning about the case.
My duty is to defend him and also pursue his claim against Lee Hsien Loong with vigour. As counsel, my duty is also to the Court to help it arrive at justice,” added Lim. “In this regard, I look forward to cross-examining Lee Hsien Loong in court.”
In response to media queries, Lee’s press secretary Chang Li Lin said that “the matter is before the courts and that the Prime Minister will continue to take legal advice on developments”.
PM Lee’s suit against Leong
Lee is suing Leong for sharing an article by The Coverage, a Malaysian portal, alleging that the former had helped ex-Malaysian PM Najib Razak in the 1MDB scandal to launder money. Leong had posted a link to the article on his Facebook on 7 November this year.
The original version of the article, titled “Lee Hsien Loong becomes 1MDB’s key investigation target”, had been published by sociopolitical website States Times Review two days prior and was later shared on its Facebook page. The site was founded by Singaporean political activist Alex Tan who is based in Australia.
In a letter by Drew & Napier dated 12 November, Lee’s lawyers mentioned the article claimed that Lee “corruptly used his position as Prime Minister to help Mr Najib Razak launder 1MDB’s billions” and that he was “complicit in criminal activity relating to 1MDB”.
The lawyers asserted that the words in the article were “false and baseless, and were calculated to disparage and impugn the plaintiff in his office as the prime minister”.
A police report against the author of the article was also filed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore.
The IMDA later demanded Facebook to remove the post shared by States Times Review. The social media giant rejected that demand, prompting the government to claim that Facebook could not be relied on to filter false information.
Access to States Times Review site was later restricted by local internet service providers as per IMDA’s request.
This is not the first time that an attempt to sue Lee has been made.
In October, a man who filed a statement of claim against Lee had his case thrown out by a High Court judge who also restrained him from filing any further similar action without first seeking permission from the court.