Singapore PM wins defamation suit against activist

Roy Ngerng, a blogger, speaks at speakers corner during a rally to demand reforms in the country's pension system in Singapore on June 7, 2014

Singapore's High Court ruled Friday that an activist defamed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong by accusing him in a blog of misappropriating state pension funds. In the first such ruling in the city-state over a purely online article, a judge issued a summary judgment against Roy Ngerng, a 33-year-old former government employee. Ngerng, who writes a blog called Heart Truths, was seeking trial to defend himself but High Court Judge Lee Seiu Kin ruled that there was "no triable defence against the plaintiff's claim". "There is no doubt that it is defamatory to suggest that the plaintiff is guilty of criminal misappropriation," the judge said in a written ruling. Damages will be set at a later date but in general, such civil suits are launched in the High Court when the value of claims is above Sg$250,000 ($200,000). Ngerng has already admitted that his May 15 blog accusing the prime minister, who is also chairman of state investment fund GIC, of misusing the Central Provident Fund (CPF) was false and without foundation. He offered Sg$5,000 as compensation to Lee, who rejected the amount. GIC is a sovereign wealth fund that manages more than $100 billion of the city-state's foreign reserves. The CPF is the state pension scheme that pools Singaporeans' retirement money. After being sued by Lee, Ngerng, who has also led public protests over the CPF issue, was fired from his government hospital job for administrative reasons which he did not contest. In June, he successfully raised more than Sg$112,000 through crowdfunding in order to fight the case, with over 4,000 people contributing cash. "I am currently deliberating with my lawyer M.Ravi on the next course of action," Ngerng told AFP after the judgment was released. "I am disappointed as I have never intended to defame the prime minister. I will still continue to speak up on the CPF and other issues that concern Singaporeans," he added. He is currently facing two criminal charges for staging an illegal march calling for greater transparency in how CPF assets are invested. Lee's office did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment. Singapore has consistently ranked high in surveys as one of the world's least corrupt countries, but rights groups say its leaders have used financially ruinous defamation suits to silence critics and political opponents. Media firms like Bloomberg, The Economist and the Financial Times as well as local opposition figures have previously paid damages and apologised to Singapore leaders including Lee and his father, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, 91, for publishing articles found to be defamatory. Singaporean leaders maintain that the lawsuits are necessary to protect their reputations from unfounded allegations. Lee, 62, has been prime minister for 10 years. The senior Lee served as premier from 1959, when Singapore gained self-rule from colonial ruler Britain, until he stepped down in 1990 in favour of his deputy Goh Chok Tong.