Lawyers for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong argued yesterday for a very high award of aggravated damages in the defamation case against Mr Roy Ngerng, saying the blogger's actions stood out for the depth and intensity of his malice towards Mr Lee.
More than a year after apologising for his libellous blog post, Mr Ngerng remains resolved to injure Mr Lee's reputation, the lawyers added in an opening statement submitted to the High Court yesterday.
Mr Lee's lawyers, led by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, noted that damages in previous libel suits involving top government leaders ranged from $100,000 to $400,000. But this case merited higher damages, given Mr Ngerng's egregious and malicious actions and continued attacks on Mr Lee.
They cited, among others, the viciousness of the libel, how extensively it was republished, Mr Ngerng's conduct, and his continuing attacks against Mr Lee.
"From the very first, the defendant set out to wound... He knowingly and maliciously published a false and vicious libel against the plaintiff to inflict maximum injury. He then cynically capitalised on, and continues to exploit, that libel and
the ensuing lawsuit to promote himself as a champion of free speech," Mr Lee's lawyers said.
Justice Lee Seiu Kin had held last November that Mr Ngerng's
post suggested that Mr Lee had misappropriated Singaporeans' Central Provident Fund (CPF) savings, as Mr Ngerng had likened Mr Lee to City Harvest Church leaders facing prosecution for alleged misuse of $50 million in church funds.
The three-day hearing that started yesterday is to assess the damages Mr Ngerng has to pay Mr Lee.
Yesterday, Mr Ngerng apologised to Mr Lee, but soon alleged that Mr Lee was being "reckless" in bringing the suit. The blogger suggested that Mr Lee was not doing his duty as the Prime Minister by suing a citizen, when it was his duty to protect his citizens.
Mr Lee said that anyone was entitled to discuss CPF and other government policies. What he had taken umbrage at was the defamatory remarks, not the criticisms levelled at the CPF scheme.
Mr Lee also told the court that even as Mr Ngerng was apologising, he was aggravating the injury.
In their submission, Mr Lee's lawyers cited previous defamation rulings to argue that allegations of corruption and criminal conduct "are grave charges", especially if made against a country's prime minister.
They noted Mr Lee's "life, reputation and ability to lead Singaporeans and GIC are all founded on his unflinching fidelity to integrity".
"It is therefore an extremely serious matter for the defendant to accuse the plaintiff of criminally misappropriating the monies paid by Singaporeans to the CPF," they said. "Such an allegation undermines the plaintiff's ability to lead the country, sustain the confidence of the electorate and to discharge his functions as Prime Minister and chairman of GIC."
The lawyers added that Mr Ngerng's actions show he harbours "a deep-seated hatred" of Mr Lee. "That is the only explanation for the venom in his continuing attacks and his relentless aggravation," they added.
"The case for a very high award of damages, including aggravated damages, is compelling," they said.
Mr Ngerng's conduct was also cited as an aggravating factor, they added, citing how he had used the lawsuit to promote himself and advance his political agenda.
Mr Lee noted how even as the blogger undertook not to repeat the libel and professed his sincerity about wanting to resolve matters, he had broken his promises.
Even as he removed the offending blog post and apologised, he later sent it to the media, and repeated the libel in other online articles and interviews.
Said Mr Lee: "He wanted to make as big a dent in my reputation as he could, by fair means or foul."