Two Singaporean men are being sued for defamation after allegedly claiming that three Chinese companies and two executives had embezzled state-owned assets in China.
The suit is being brought by Qingdao Bohai Construction Group, Qingjian Group, its Singapore subsidiary Qingjian Realty, and Chinese nationals Du Bo and Yuan Hongjun.
Mr Du, a Singapore permanent resident, is a director of all three companies, while Mr Yuan is the chairman of Qingdao.
They allege that cousins Goh Teck Beng and Ng Teck Chuan were behind a series of online articles and two articles in Taiwanese newspapers, accusing the Chinese firms and the two executives of siphoning assets from China.
Senior Counsel Lee Eng Beng told the High Court yesterday that his clients have suffered a loss of reputation, as a result of the claims.
At least one business associate found the allegations serious enough to avoid initiating new joint ventures, said Mr Lee.
The allegations also resulted in United Overseas Bank and OCBC Bank declining to extend credit to the Qingjian group, which severely curtailed the ability of the firm to list its Singapore operations on the Singapore Exchange.
Qingjian Realty has developed a number of projects here, including executive condominiums.
Mr Lee contended that the cousins have vindictive motives for wanting to harm the plaintiffs.
Their uncle, Mr Goh Chin Soon, and Mr Goh Teck Beng himself, are shareholders of the Grandlink Group, which is embroiled in several legal disputes with the Qingjian Group over projects in China.
In 2013, the Qingjian Group obtained court orders in China to freeze the assets of the Grandlink Group.
Shortly after, the defamatory articles were posted on numerous forums and websites. Some were published in the name of Mr Ng, and cited his personal particulars and contact details.
Both defendants, who are represented by Mr Quek Mong Hua, deny that they are responsible for posting the online articles.
Mr Goh admitted that he did lodge an online report with anti-corruption authorities in China, after learning that Mr Du, a civil servant, had amassed substantial personal wealth and had managed to obtain permanent residency in Singapore.
He did not want to use his own name as he travelled often to China, and so used the details of his cousin Mr Ng, then a coffeeshop assistant.
Mr Quek contended that the plaintiffs are trying to force the defendants to concede to defamation, so as to superficially absolve themselves of the conduct exposed in the online articles.