Blogger seeks to strike out PM's claim in libel suit

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

Blogger Leong Sze Hian, who is being sued by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for defamation, filed an application to the courts yesterday to strike out PM Lee's claim against him.

The move is the latest development in a libel suit that started last 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 yesterday, Mr Leong's lawyer, Carson Law Chambers' Mr 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.

Late last month, 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 court process, and that what he did - by sharing the article about PM Lee - was no more than what thousands of others 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 it 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, together with part of the headline.

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 regulator Infocomm Media Development Authority.

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

In his defence, Mr Leong denied, among other things, that he was being malicious.

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.

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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2019, with the headline Blogger seeks to strike out PM's claim in libel suit. Subscribe