Blogger Leong Sze Hian applies to court to strike out PM Lee defamation claim, says lawyer

Blogger Leong Sze Hian (pictured) had shared on his Facebook page an article alleging that PM Lee had helped to launder money from the 1MDB. PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

SINGAPORE - Blogger Leong Sze Hian, who is being sued by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for defamation, has filed an application to the courts on Friday (Jan 25) to strike out PM Lee's claim against him.

The move is the latest development in a libel suit that started in November when PM Lee commenced legal action against Mr Leong. It is in relation to Mr Leong sharing on his Facebook page an article alleging PM Lee had helped to launder money from the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) fund.

In a statement on Friday, Mr Leong's lawyer, Carson Law Chambers' Lim Tean, gave three reasons as grounds for the application.

Mr Lim said the claim is "scandalous, frivolous, or vexatious", "may prejudice, embarrass or delay the fair trial of the action", and is "an abuse of the process of the Court".

He noted that Mr Leong has also filed an affidavit in support of the application.

He also said that he believes the application will be heard in court on Feb 25, together with a separate application made by PM Lee's lawyers to strike out a counterclaim made earlier by Mr Leong.

In late December, Mr Leong responded to PM Lee's initial legal action by filing his defence and a countersuit in which he stated the defamation claim was an abuse of the process of the court, and that what he did - by sharing the article about PM Lee - was no more than what thousands of other had done.

Lawyers for PM Lee responded by making an application earlier this month to strike out the counterclaim.

PM Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin said then that this was made on the ground that the counterclaim "has no basis in law and is completely hopeless".

The libel suit centres on an article published by Malaysian news portal The Coverage, and which Mr Leong shared a link to on his Facebook page on Nov 7, 2018, together with part of the headline.

The same day, Singapore's High Commission in Malaysia also denounced The Coverage article as "fake news and clearly libellous".

Titled "Breaking News : Singapore Lee Hsien Loong Becomes 1MDB's Key Investigation Target - Najib Signed Several Unfair Agreements With Hsien Loong In Exchange For Money Laundering", the article alleged that former Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak had signed "secret deals" with PM Lee in exchange for Singapore banks' help in laundering money from 1MDB.

On Nov 10, Mr Leong took down his Facebook post, after being told to do so by Singapore's regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority.

PM Lee's lawyers have said the article's allegations were "false and baseless", and it was clear Mr Leong had published the post "maliciously and to damage our client".

In his defence, Mr Leong denied he was being malicious.

He, however, added that he was aware of how 1MDB funds had been laundered through Singapore bank accounts, and that the Monetary Authority of Singapore had noted it had affected Singapore's reputation as a clean financial hub.

"He therefore saw no reason to disbelieve that statement that the Singapore Government was one of the key investigative targets of 1MDB investigators and he considered it... a matter of public interest that this was being reported to be so, whether or not it was correct," according to Mr Leong's court papers.

PM Lee is seeking aggravated damages as well as costs, plus an injunction that Mr Leong be prevented from publishing or disseminating the defamatory allegations, or any other allegations of complicity in matters relating to 1MDB.

Mr Leong has launched a crowdfunding initiative to raise funds for his legal fees and potential damages, and hopes to get $25,000.

A first pre-trial conference for the case took place on Jan 21, with a second one to be held on Jan 31.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.