Blogger Leong Sze Hian files defence, countersues PM Lee

Financial adviser and blogger Leong Sze Hian is seeking compensation for damage to his reputation as well as costs.
Financial adviser and blogger Leong Sze Hian is seeking compensation for damage to his reputation as well as costs.PHOTO: THE NEW PAPER

Leong Sze Hian denies embellishing article, accuses PM Lee of abusing court process

Blogger Leong Sze Hian has filed a defence and countersuit against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, claiming PM Lee's defamation suit against him for sharing a post on his Facebook page is an abuse of the process of the court.

In court papers posted online yesterday, Mr Leong's lawyer claimed that what he did was no more than what thousands of others had done in sharing the offending article - which said PM Lee had helped launder money from Malaysia's embattled 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) state fund.

Mr Leong's lawyer, Mr Lim Tean, also argued that the article on how Singapore and PM Lee had become targets of the investigation into 1MDB was "a matter of public interest... whether or not it was correct". Mr Lim, from Carson Law Chambers, has recently set up new opposition party People's Voice.

PM Lee initiated legal action against Mr Leong last month, after he shared on Facebook part of the headline of the article from Malaysian news portal The Coverage, with a link to the full article.

PM Lee's lawyers 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".

The Coverage article was described as "fake news and clearly libellous" by Singapore's High Commission in Malaysia on Nov 7. Mr Leong posted it the same day.

In response to media queries, PM Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin said the matter is before the courts and PM Lee will continue to take legal advice on developments.

 
 

Mr Leong, in his defence, denies he was being malicious, saying he was aware of how 1MDB funds had been laundered through Singapore bank accounts, and the Monetary Authority of Singapore noted this 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," said Mr Leong's court papers.

The papers further said that after he posted the article, Mr Leong saw the Singapore Government considered the article "fake news".

He also knew Facebook, The Coverage and The States Times Review had all refused to take the article down, but he took down his Facebook post on Nov 10 after being told to do so by the Infocomm Media Development Authority.

Mr Leong's "only involvement in this matter has been to make available the article in The Coverage on his Facebook page without embellishment or comment for less than three days".

"The plaintiff has picked upon a prominent government critic who did no more than thousands of others in order to send a wider message to the population not to question the role of the Singapore Government in the 1MDB scandal, particularly ahead of the trial of Najib Razak, the former prime minister of Malaysia, and a likely general election in Singapore."

Mr Leong said in his countersuit: "The predominant purpose of the claim is the use of the legal process to chill freedom of expression in Singapore generally and in particular to restrict reporting on any role the Government may have had in the 1MDB scandal." He is seeking compensation for damages to his reputation through the issuance, continuance and reporting on the legal proceedings, as well as costs, according to the 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.

His lawyers say the offending words mean he had corruptly used his position as PM to help Najib launder 1MDB's billions, and that he was complicit in criminal activity relating to the fund. These, they added, "are false and baseless" and were calculated to disparage and impugn him in his office as the PM.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 27, 2018, with the headline 'Blogger files defence, countersues PM Lee'. Print Edition | Subscribe