Press sec to PM Lee refutes allegations over her statement on blogger's case

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's press secretary today refuted allegations that her comments in a statement to the media on Monday over a closed-door defamation hearing against blogger Roy Ngerng were "inaccurate".

Ms Chang Li Lin had, on Monday, said Mr Ngerng's lawyer "indicated at the hearing that Mr Ngerng did not want to be cross-examined."

But lawyer M. Ravi, representing Mr Ngerng, said in a letter to Ms Chang - released to the media early on Tuesday - that she was "inaccurate" and "misinformed".

In a five-page media statement, Ms Chang cited notes taken by lawyers from Drew & Napier, who represent Mr Lee, at the closed-door session where Mr Ngerng, 33, was ordered to pay $29,000 in costs for legal fees and related expenses. Damages for defamation will be assessed in later hearings.

Mr Ravi said in his letter that based on his recollection, he did not tell the court that Mr Ngerng did not want to be cross-examined. Instead, what he said was that he had to take instructions from his client, which was a "common and normal practice".

He also said it would be "illogical" for the court to ask him to confirm whether Mr Ngerng would give evidence by Jan 30 had he already said Mr Ngerng would not.

But Ms Chang, citing transcripts, said there had been a "hasty U-turn" by Mr Ravi.

She wrote: "Mr Ravi had informed the Court that Mr Ngerng would rely on the affidavit filed by him in the earlier summary judgment application as his evidence for the purposes of the assessment of damages.

"Mr Davinder Singh (from Drew & Napier) then gave Mr Ravi notice that if Mr Ngerng was going to give evidence for the purposes of the assessment of damages, Mr Singh would be cross-examining Mr Ngerng.

"Whereupon Mr Ravi promptly changed his position, and informed the Court that Mr Ngerng would "Therefore" not be filing any evidence," she said.

"This was the clearest indication that Mr Ngerng did not want to be cross-examined," she added. "And even after he tried to end the discussion, the Court asked Mr Ravi to consider the matter and let the Court and Drew & Napier know by 30 Jan 2015 if Mr Ngerng would be giving evidence."

She also addressed a question Mr Ravi had asked, whether it was appropriate for the Prime Minister's press secretary to issue statements in connection with the case.

"He appears to have forgotten that, as the Court has found Mr Ngerng falsely alleged that 'the plaintiff, the Prime Minister of Singapore… is guilty of criminal misappropriation of the monies paid by Singaporeans to the CPF'.

"It is therefore entirely proper for me to deal with this matter as the Prime Minister's press secretary," she added.

waltsim@sph.com.sg