Facing for the first time the man who successfully sued him for defamation last November, blogger Roy Ngerng began his cross-examination of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in the High Court yesterday with an apology for his defamatory remarks.
But his line of questioning, during Mr Lee's six hours on the witness stand, showed he was anything but contrite, said the PM's lawyer, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh.
Before a packed courtroom and flanked by activists Leong Sze Hian and Han Hui Hui, Mr Ngerng would often repeat his questions and give clarifications of his intentions in writing his defamatory blog posts.
He would also flip through bundles of documents seeking questions to ask the PM, sometimes coming up with hypothetical scenarios that Mr Singh charged had little relevance to the hearing.
The three-day hearing, starting yesterday, was to assess damages Mr Ngerng has to pay Mr Lee.
'NO CHOICE BUT TO ACT'
You have been skirting closer and closer to defaming me for a long period of time. I have been watching this, I have not responded. Eventually, it was unambiguous and flagrant and I decided I had no choice but to act.
PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG, in response to Mr Ngerng when asked why he had issued a letter of demand instead of asking him nicely to remove the blog post.
Mr Ngerng declared several times yesterday that he accepted the summary judgment made last November, but said he did not deserve to pay the "very high damages" Mr Lee was seeking as he did not intend any malice.
He tried to do this by getting Mr Lee to agree that many statements in his blog post were factual and taken from news articles or websites. Thus, they could not possibly show malicious intent, he argued.
After a lengthy stretch of back-and-forth, Mr Lee said the exercise was "meaningless" as it was Mr Ngerng's blog post, taken as a whole, that was defamatory.
Mr Ngerng, who is representing himself after discharging his lawyer last week, often veered off into topics that puzzled the judge as well.
He asked questions on whether the Government is the sole equity shareholder of Temasek Holdings, and if Temasek Holdings owned the assets on its balance sheet.
It led Justice Lee Seiu Kin to ask: "What is the question here, Mr Ngerng?"
Several of his questions also required the Prime Minister to explain Mr Ngerng's intentions in writing the defamatory blog post.
After a couple of hours, Justice Lee told him Mr Lee would be unable to provide evidence of whether he had intended any malice: "He won't know what your intentions are... It's for you to persuade me that you have none. So this line of questioning that you're trying to establish from him, that you have no malice, will not get you anywhere."
Mr Ngerng even brought up his current jobless state: "Do you know I'm currently unemployed?"
Mr Lee replied: "I'm sorry to hear that."
Later, the judge told Mr Ngerng: "I have to be careful not to allow resources of the court to be used for purposes other than to investigate (the quantum of damages)."
The day's long-drawn-out proceeding was punctuated by several moments of levity, however, thanks to Mr Ngerng's analogies.
Disputing PM Lee's claim that a subsequent video he made was grounds for aggravated damages, he asked: "If you give me a knife right now and I cut my own finger, just because you gave me the knife, does it mean that my cutting my own finger is your fault because you gave me the knife?"
Mr Lee said: "Knowing you, it may be."
Towards the end of the day, Mr Ngerng asked Mr Lee if he was willing to settle out of court. He also asked if Mr Lee would give him a second chance.
Mr Lee said: "Saying sorry alone would have been plenty at one point, but unfortunately that is not only what you did."
The Prime Minister said he was "not in control of the court situation" and that he was content to have the court decide the damages.
Mr Ngerng then asked why he had issued a letter of demand through a lawyer instead of asking him in a nicer manner to take down the blog post.
Said Mr Lee: "You have been skirting closer and closer to defaming me for a long period of time. I have been watching this, I have not responded. Eventually, it was unambiguous and flagrant and I decided I had no choice but to act."