Singapore PM rejects compensation offer from blogger

Bhavan Jaipragas
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivers a speech during the 20th International Conference on the Future of Asia in Tokyo on May 22, 2014

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has rejected as "derisory" a compensation offer by a local blogger who defamed him, the premier's lawyer said Tuesday, paving the way for a possible lawsuit.

"Your client's offer of Sg$5,000 ($4,000) is derisory and completely disregards the gravity of your client's conduct (and) the undisputed fact that the libel is false and malicious," Lee's lawyer Davinder Singh said in a letter to Roy Ngerng Yi Ling's legal counsel late Tuesday.

Singh last week demanded an apology and compensation from 33-year-old Ngerng for a May 15 article seen as accusing the premier of corruption.

Singh had said the commentary, penned by Ngerng and posted on his blog The Heart Truths, implied that "Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore and the chairman of GIC, is guilty of criminal misappropriation of the monies paid by Singaporeans to the CPF (Central Provident Fund)".

GIC is a sovereign wealth fund that manages more than $100 billion of the city-state's foreign reserves. CPF is the state pension fund.

Ngerng, a healthcare worker, has said the article was meant to call for greater transparency on how the pension fund is invested by the government through its two sovereign wealth firms.

Earlier Tuesday, he offered Lee Sg$5,000 as compensation. His lawyer M. Ravi said the amount was commensurate with his "modest living and income that he derives as a healthcare worker".

Ngerng had taken down the article and links to it after first receiving notice from Singh on May 18, and on Friday apologised unreservedly, while urging Lee not to seek damages.

However, Singh rebutted Monday that his apology "was not and never meant to be genuine" after Ngerng circulated a YouTube video over the weekend where he spoke about his legal predicament.

In the latest letter to Ravi, Singh took issue with several other actions by Ngerng in the past week, including sending emails to the local and international media that included alternative links to offending posts.

Singh said Lee was prepared to "forego a substantial amount of the damages that he was entitled to" if Ngerng had "behaved honourably".

"Instead of doing that, he has cynically used the occasion of his own knowingly false libel to promote himself," he wrote.

Singh asked Ravi to confirm if he would "accept service of process" on behalf of Ngerng, a legal term denoting the first step toward a lawsuit.

Singapore has ranked top in surveys as one of the world's least corrupt countries, but international human rights groups have regularly accused its leaders of using financially ruinous libel actions to silence critics and political opponents.

Singaporean leaders, including Lee and his father, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, have countered that the lawsuits are necessary to protect their reputations.

Manpower minister Tan Chuan-Jin last year accepted an offer of Sg$5,000 from a local opposition politician who had written a defamatory Facebook post about him.