PM Lee awarded $87k in legal costs for TOC defamation suits

The High Court yesterday awarded Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong more than $87,000 in legal costs for the defamation suits he filed over an article published on The Online Citizen (TOC).

The costs order came after PM Lee won his suits against Mr Terry Xu, the chief editor of the socio-political website, and Ms Rubaashini Shunmuganathan, the Malaysian author of the article that was published on Aug 15, 2019.

High Court judge Audrey Lim last month awarded PM Lee $160,000 as general damages and $50,000 as aggravated damages. PM Lee can claim the $160,000 sum from Mr Xu or Ms Rubaashini, but only Mr Xu is liable to pay the aggravated damages of $50,000.

The judge found that the article was defamatory as it had imputed that PM Lee had been dishonest with his father, founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.

The article, titled "PM Lee's wife Ho Ching weirdly shares article on cutting ties with family members", had quoted a Facebook post by PM Lee's sister, Dr Lee Wei Ling.

Dr Lee's post asserted that Mr Lee Kuan Yew had been misled by PM Lee into believing the family house at 38 Oxley Road had been gazetted by the Government, causing him to change his will to bestow the house to PM Lee.

Justice Lim, in rejecting Mr Xu's defence, said the evidence showed that PM Lee had supported Mr Lee Kuan Yew's wishes to demolish the house, as he wanted to respect his father's wishes. She also noted that PM Lee had informed Mr Lee Kuan Yew it was likely the Cabinet would wish to preserve the house if the matter came before it.

It was more likely than not that Mr Lee Kuan Yew, after learning of the Cabinet's and his children's views on the matter, had bequeathed the house to PM Lee for him to manage any political or public issues pertaining to it, said the judge.

Justice Lim found that PM Lee's reputation was injured by the falsehoods in the article.

Ms Rubaashini did not enter an appearance to defend the suit against her, and judgment in default was granted in favour of PM Lee, who was represented by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh.

Yesterday, a hearing was held in chambers to determine costs, which are usually awarded to successful litigants in civil suits.

Mr Xu's lawyer Lim Tean later posted on his Facebook page that his client was ordered to pay costs of $87, 832.93 and appealed for donations to raise the sum this week.

PM Lee's press secretary, in response to media queries, reiterated that the Prime Minister will donate to charity the sums that he has been awarded.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2021, with the headline 'PM Lee awarded $87k in legal costs for TOC defamation suits'. Subscribe