Blogger says sorry; PM rejects plea against damages

Roy Ngerng admitted that his allegation was false and "completely without foundation".
Roy Ngerng admitted that his allegation was false and "completely without foundation".ST FILE PHOTO

Blogger Roy Ngerng yesterday apologised to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for a blog post alleging Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings had been misappropriated, but appealed against Mr Lee's demand for damages.

The Prime Minister, however, is standing firm and Mr Ngerng, 33, has until 5pm on Monday to send in a written offer of damages and legal costs.

If Mr Ngerng fails to do so, legal proceedings will commence.

In a post on his blog The Heart Truths yesterday morning, Mr Ngerng said he admits and acknowledges that the allegation in his May 15 post is false and "completely without foundation".

He added: "I unreservedly apologise to Mr Lee Hsien Loong for the distress and embarrassment caused to him by this allegation."

A letter sent by his lawyer, Mr M. Ravi, yesterday also asked that damages be dropped as Mr Ngerng is a "civic-minded individual who earns his modest living as a health-care worker".

Mr Ravi claimed that Mr Lee cannot, in a letter of demand, ask Mr Ngerng to pay his legal costs.

But in response, PM Lee's lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, said that falsely accusing Mr Lee of misappropriating CPF savings is a "very grave and highly malicious allegation", which fully entitled him to damages.

And contrary to Mr Ravi's claim, Mr Lee is "entitled in law" to those costs, he added.

Mr Singh added that PM Lee "reserves the right" to deal with the other matters in Mr Ngerng's letter "at the appropriate time". 

In the original post that got him into trouble, Mr Ngerng had compared a chart he made setting out relationships between the CPF, Mr Lee and Singapore companies, to a Channel NewsAsia chart about City Harvest Church leaders prosecuted for allegedly misusing church funds.

This is understood to mean the Prime Minister "is guilty of criminal misappropriation of the monies paid by Singaporeans to the CPF", Mr Singh had said.

In a letter to Mr Lee yesterday, Mr Ngerng said he noted that the the issue was with his claims of "misappropriation" and therefore the PM "would appreciate that the rest of the article, which had discussed Singaporeans' CPF issues in detail, was not touched on".

Mr Ngerng, who made a surprise bid for a Nominated MP post this week, added that he hoped for a chance to have a "frank conversation" with Mr Lee on the CPF.

"I'm disappointed that instead of engaging me in conversation, he is still using the threat of legal action," he told The Straits Times after his request to have damages dropped was rejected.

Mr Ngerng is the latest blogger to have to apologise to the PM. In the past two years, blogger Alex Au and sociopolitical blog Temasek Review Emeritus' editor Richard Wan also complied with requests from Mr Lee to take down and apologise for articles on their sites.

Mr Chia Boon Teck, owner of law firm Chia Wong LLP, said that, compared to the 1980s, political leaders have been more tolerant of feedback and criticism in the last decade.

"But once in a while, when they feel that the line has been crossed... then the critic or commentator better be prepared to put his money where his mouth is," he said.