SINGAPORE - The Arts House has set out the sequence of events leading to the cancellation of the launch of a children's book at its premises, contradicting what the publisher had claimed happened.
The book in question, The Phantom Of Oxley Castle, was supposed to have been launched on Saturday. The title and storyline bring to mind the 38 Oxley Road saga and Lee family feud.
On Sunday, Mr Edmund Wee, chief executive of Epigram Books, told The Straits Times that the Arts House had informed him on the phone over the weekend that they "did not want the book launch at their premises".
Asked about this on Sunday, an Arts House spokesman said the final decision to cancel or postpone the event was in fact made by Epigram Books.
In a statement yesterday, the Arts House said it was approached by Epigram Books in September regarding the launch of Dream Island - the Mad Mad World Of Philip Yeo. This launch had a charity component to it.
In October, Epigram Books suggested expanding the launch to two books, and included The Phantom of Oxley Castle.
"As part of our efforts to support the launch of new books in Singapore, The Arts House agreed to launching both books at the same event," said the statement.
Over the weekend, the Arts House informed Epigram Books that there had been "online media chatter" about The Phantom of Oxley Castle.
"The Arts House also highlighted that this development might have implications on the launch of Dream Island, which had been the original book we had been approached about, as well as its charity component."
These steps were undertaken as part of its "usual process to engage in open dialogue" with venue users, particularly how they might affect their event, it said.
"At no point did The Arts House inform Epigram Books that we did not want the book launch to take place on our premises."
Epigram Books decided to cancel the launch of the Oxley Castle book to focus on Dream Island, said the statement, adding that the publisher communicated its decision on its Facebook page.
The Arts House added that Epigram Books had reiterated to it on Monday morning that it had conveyed the reason for the cancellation to the media.
The children's book is about a grand castle with 38 rooms, located on a tropical island. Two young princes, a princess and their pesky butler named OB Markus live in the castle.
Earlier this year, a dispute broke out between Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his two siblings, Dr Lee Wei Ling and Mr Lee Hsien Yang, over the fate of their family home in 38 Oxley Road.
Asked about the Arts House's statement, Mr Wee told The Straits Times on Monday: "I'm prepared to accept that there was a misunderstanding between The Arts House and me."
He declined to comment further on the issue.
But in a statement earlier in the day, Epigram Books said it "has not received any letter of any kind" from the Prime Minister's Office or any individuals.
It said it has taken legal advice from Peter Low & Choo regarding the book, and that the launch has been cancelled and postponed till further notice.
The Epigram Books statement also claimed there was "a misunderstanding" regarding what Mr Wee had shared with The Straits Times about the cancellation of the book launch.
"The decision to cancel the book launch was initiated by Epigram Books," it said.
"While the original intent was to do a dual book launch, we have decided that it will be better to focus on doing a one book launch," it said, referring to Dream Island.
It said it will continue to take orders but the delivery of the books will be confirmed at a later date.
Mr Wee had earlier said the book all characters in the book were fictional, and that it was not a re-telling of the Oxley Road events.
The 32-page hardcover book costs $16.90. Epigram Books said the first print order is 2,000 copies."
According to its website, The Arts House is a multidisciplinary arts centre with a focus on literary programming. It occupies the Old Parliament House and is managed by a not-for-profit organisation - Arts House Limited (AHL) - under the National Arts Council. AHL also manages Goodman Arts Centre and Aliwal Arts Centre.
Meanwhile, online portal The Online Citizen (TOC) said on Monday night it "apologises unreservedly" to PM Lee for saying the prime minister intended to sue the publishers and authors of the book for defamation.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, TOC said at first that it had heard that the publisher and authors had been notified that PM Lee will be suing them for defamation. It later corrected the post to say the publisher would receive a letter on Monday.
On Monday, TOC said it first heard of the possible defamation suit launch "through a third party" who had spoken to Mr Wee. "A phone call was made to Mr Wee on Sunday to verify the story. We asked if the publisher had received a letter from the Prime Minister Office or Mr Lee Hsien Loong."
TOC said Mr Wee's reply was that he had not received anything yet, but was told to expect it on Monday.
"This is the original source for the post made on Sunday evening," added TOC.
It also said: "We stand by the fact that we were informed by the publishers of possible legal action that would come their way today. Our information and source were deemed accurate and credible at the material time. The fact that the publisher shared our original post on Facebook serves as evidence. We have and will produce further evidence if the need to do so arises."