A burgeoning legal battle is taking shape in Singapore as the nation’s Law and Home Affairs Minister, Mr K Shanmugam, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, advance a defamation lawsuit against Mr Lee Hsien Yang (LHY), son of the country’s esteemed founding father, Lee Kuan Yew.
This development follows the two ministers serving legal papers to LHY via Facebook Messenger in mid-September. They chose this unconventional method with court approval in hand, claiming the challenges of serving him in the UK, where he currently resides.
Reacting to the legal action, LHY disclosed in a Facebook post that he had suggested the ministers pursue their suit in London’s courts. He added, “London has long been a favored jurisdiction for defamation suits.” Nonetheless, the ministers chose to proceed in the Singapore Courts.
In the hopes of finding a peaceful resolution to the growing discord, LHY proposed independent arbitration.
He detailed, “We could each select an arbitrator of high international standing. This would ensure fairness and impartiality. While proceedings would be conducted in private, the decision would be made public, guaranteeing transparency and closure.”
The heart of the dispute emerged in September when the ministers accused LHY of hinting at their potential corrupt actions in a Facebook post dated 23 July.
They assert that LHY insinuated they had received special treatment from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), manifested through unauthorized tree felling and state-sponsored renovations at 26 and 31 Ridout Road. These allegations have been steadfastly refuted by the ministers, who deem them as unfounded and injurious.
Following the post, the ministers, through their legal counsel, pressed LHY to retract his statements, offer a public apology, and make a S$25,000 charity donation. This suggested amount is seen as a fraction of possible legal damages, as damages in High Court cases often start at an imposing S$250,000.
LHY has been firm in his stance, maintaining that his original words neither imply corruption nor personal gain. He voiced his frustration at the ministers for demanding what he views as a “misleading apology.”
In a subsequent post on 29 July, LHY rebuffed the ministers’ claims, emphasizing his intention was to share public information.
He ardently stands by his initial words, “Two ministers have leased state-owned mansions from the agency one oversees, resulting in tree felling and state-funded renovations.”
LHY argues that this doesn’t suggest corruption or personal gain and reproaches the ministers for insisting on a “false apology” for sentiments he denies expressing.
Earlier in September, LHY had highlighted his preference for the UK as the litigation venue, subtly prompting the public to speculate on the ministers’ motives for preferring local courts.
Backing the ministers is a formidable legal team from Davinder Singh Chambers, led by the distinguished senior lawyer Davinder Singh, known for representing Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, in previous high-profile defamation cases.
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