SINGAPORE — The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) has hit back at Li Shengwu’s latest comments on the contempt of court proceedings against him, questioning the timing of his decision not to “participate in” legal proceedings.
It also claimed that Li, the nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and grandson of the late Lee Kuan Yew, never intended to come back to Singapore to defend himself.
In a statement on Thursday (23 January), the AGC said, “Mr Li’s conduct suggests a sense that he is above the law. (His) decision not to defend his statement is a clear acknowledgement that his defence has no merits.”
It also accused him of “using legal representation in the proceedings as a platform to launch baseless allegations against the AGC and others”.
Li said on Wednesday that he will no longer take part in legal proceedings against him, which began in August 2017. In a Facebook post, the assistant professor of economics at Harvard University blasted what he calls AGC’s persistently “unusual conduct” in its case against him.
Given the AGC’s actions, the 34-year-old concluded that he would no longer participate in the legal proceedings, adding, “I will not dignify the AGC’s conduct by my participation.”
But the agency called the timing of Li’s decision “significant”, as it had applied to cross-examine him on his defence affidavit, and for him to answer questions on oath about his post. The AGC’s queries included how many Facebook friends Li had at the time of his post and whether they included members of the media - this is relevant to the question of whether Li would reasonably have foreseen his post to be published by the media, said the agency.
“Mr Li refused to answer these questions. The clear inference is that his answers would have been damaging to his case.”
It added, “His decision to withdraw from these proceedings, close to the hearing of the AGC’s applications, was clearly made to avoid the possibility that he will have to answer questions on oath in public and disclose information that he has, to date, refused to reveal.”
Background to the case
Li had published a private Facebook post on 15 July 2017 saying that “the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system”. The post included a link to a New York Times editorial titled “Censored in Singapore”.
In a letter sent six days after the post, Senior State Counsel Francis Ng called it “an egregious and baseless attack” on the Singapore legal system and asked Li to sign a declaration that he had made false allegations, was in contempt of the judiciary, and to apologise unreservedly.
Li later explained that his post was intended as a criticism of the Singapore government’s effect on press freedom and that the AGC “chose to escalate the dispute”.
Later in the same month, the AGC applied for – and was subsequently granted – permission in the High Court to commence proceedings against Li for contempt of court. “This prosecution has continued for years, and during that time the AGC has submitted thousands of pages of legal documents over one paragraph on social media,” said Li on Thursday.
He added, “I will continue to be active on Facebook, and will continue to regard my friends-only Facebook posts as private. However, I have removed my cousin Li Hongyi from my Facebook friends list.”
‘Baseless, contemptuous allegations against the Singapore judiciary’
In his latest post, Li said that the AGC had applied to strike out parts of his defence affidavit, with the result that they will not be considered at the trial. He added that the AGC subsequently demanded that these parts be sealed in the court record. The public does not have access to sealed court records.
And, Li said, when arguing jurisdiction in the Court of Appeal, the AGC argued that a new piece of legislation should be retroactively applied against him. “The court saw it as unfair for the new legislation to apply retrospectively,” Li said.
In response, AGC said that parts of the affidavit had been struck out because it contained “matters that were scandalous and irrelevant to the issues in the case”. It did not elaborate on what these matters were. It also noted that Li complied with the court’s order to re-file the affidavit and did not appeal.
On the matter of the service of the cause papers on Li out of Singapore, AGC noted that the Court of Appeal confirmed in April 2019 that he was validly served. “Now, more than nine months later, he rehashes the same complaint.”
The agency concluded, “If Mr Li has nothing to hide, he should make himself available for cross- examination and answer the questions posed to him on oath.”
If found guilty, Li could face a fine up to $100,000 or a jail term of up to three years, or both. He is the eldest son of Lee Hsien Yang and the nephew of Lee Wei Ling, Hsien Yang’s older sister.
Hsien Yang and Wei Ling are embroiled in a long-running family feud against their older brother PM Lee over the fate of their old family home at 38 Oxley Road.