Singapore court grants AG permission to begin contempt proceedings against Li Shengwu

Li Shengwu, nephew of Singapore's prime minister, who faces contempt of court proceedings in his homeland as he studies economics at Harvard University, is seen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S. on August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Tim McLaughlin

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore's High Court on Monday granted leave for the attorney-general's office to begin contempt of court proceedings against Li Shengwu, a grandson of the city state's late founding leader Lee Kuan Yew, over comments he made last month about the country's legal system.

According to correspondence released by Li, the attorney-general's chambers (AGC) had offered to stop pursuing the case against Li, whose uncle is the nation's current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, if by Monday afternoon he apologized for a Facebook post from July 15. In that post Li had said that "the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system."

In a reply to the AGC's offer, Li wrote in a letter dated Aug. 18: "The truth matters: I cannot confess to a crime I did not commit in return for a discontinuance of the legal proceedings against me."

Senior State Counsel Francis Ng - from the attorney general's chambers - has previously described the Facebook post as “an egregious and baseless attack” on the Singapore legal system. 

Li, who is currently a junior fellow at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, earlier on Monday posted Facebook links to the offer letter and his response.

In that response, Li said the AGC has now accepted he doesn’t need to delete his now amended Facebook post.

On Aug. 4, Li said he did not mean to attack the Singapore judiciary and he had amended the “private” post to avoid misunderstanding, though he hasn’t disclosed what changes he has made.

The AGC declined to provide comment on the correspondence Li released

Li’s troubles are related to a family feud that has erupted between Lee Kuan Yew’s three children over the fate of Lee’s house. The dispute has been simmering since Lee Kuan Yew died in 2015 but exploded into public view this summer in a highly unusual display of discord at the top of a country that usually keeps such matters behind closed doors.

The AGC said in a statement on Monday it would now file a "substantive application" with the High Court for an order of committal against Li.

"If Mr Li is overseas, the AGC will file an application for service of documents out of Singapore," the attorney general's office said.

(Reporting by the Singapore newsroom; Editing by Martin Howell)