A tense cross-examination of CPF blogger Roy Ngerng unfolded in the Supreme Court building on Thursday, during day two of the hearing to determine damages the blogger has to pay Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for defamatory remarks.
The public gallery was nearly full, as Senior Counsel Davinder Singh led the cross-examination by building a case against the blogger regarding his intent to defame the prime minister.
At one point, Singh asked Ngerng if he was aware that sensationalising his blog post was one way to generate greater interest on the Central Provident Fund issue.
“I am aware that people can do that in general,” Ngerng said, adding that it was not something that he did regarding the offending article.
Ngerng had previously said that his CPF articles were not engaging readers, but he had considered matters pertaining to the CPF to be of public interest.
Singh later asked Ngerng if he had been "so consumed" by his desire to champion issues pertaining to CPF and to promote himself that "he was prepared" to make what he knew was an "untrue allegation".
Ngerng denied this, and said, as he repeated often throughout the hearing, that he had no intent to defame the PM. “I did not believe that (PM Lee) was misappropriating the money,” Ngerng said.
At a few points during the cross-examination, Ngerng appeared to be flustered at the stand when Singh asked him about whether he believed that what he wrote was defamatory.
“Do you accept that these words in the context of the article meant that the plaintiff was guilty of criminal misappropriation?” Singh asked.
Ngerng replied that at the time when he wrote the offending blog post, he believed that it was interesting that someone was able to draw something that described what they wanted to say.
He added that he fully understood what he wrote -- that the CPF monies were being misappropriated by the government -- but he lacked understanding of the word "misappropriation".
The blogger stated previously that he had no awareness of the definition of the word and was not aware of the "gravity of the situation” until the letter of demand sent by PM Lee.
He also said he was aware that misappropriation was a criminal offence, but did not understand what the legal definition of criminal misappropriation was, he said.
Ngerng was also visibly shaken when Singh questioned his intent to defame. Singh said that Ngerng -- despite claims that he did not intend to defame the prime minister -- had carefully crafted his article to claim that PM Lee and the government had misappropriated CPF monies.
In response, the blogger had asked the government to sue him if it felt a need to, and said to Singh that he was not there to represent the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC).
At one point towards the end of questioning, Singh said Ngerng was playing for time by repeatedly evading difficult questions. This tactic, the senior counsel reminded Ngerng, would have a bearing on the damages that would eventually be awarded to PM Lee.
Ngerng had started off the hearing by submitting two pieces of evidence from PM Lee’s Facebook page.
One post had shown a Facebook post made by the PM on his 10-year anniversary as Prime Minister, and another was a recent post on corruption in response to former NTUC chairman Phey Yew Kok’s arrest.
The former was filled with compliments to the PM, Ngerng said, and there should thus be no need to pay damages as his reputation had not been affected.
The hearing was adjourned for lunch at around 1pm and will resume at 2.30pm.
Editing by Belmont Lay
Top photo by Ng Yi Shu