Lee Hsien Yang wants to be treated differently from S'poreans sued in S'pore for defamation: Shanmugam & Vivian

They said Lee’s statements were meant primarily for a Singaporean audience, not a UK audience.

Zhangxin Zheng | October 05, 2023, 10:50 PM



Cabinet ministers K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan have responded to a recent Facebook post by Lee Hsien Yang, who suggested an independent arbitration, saying that what Lee really wants is "special treatment".

"He wants to be treated differently from Singaporeans (and even foreigners) who are sued in Singapore for defamation", Shanmugam and Vivian said in a joint statement published on their Facebook pages on Oct. 5, 2023.

"Lee should explain why he is entitled to make libellous statements, and yet be exempt from the rules that apply to the rest of us", the statement noted.

In his Facebook post made earlier in the day, Lee Hsien Yang suggested that he and the ministers "mutually agree to an independent arbitration where we each choose an arbitrator of high international standing". 

Lee also suggested that the ministers should sue him in the London courts, claiming that the statement which they took offence to was made in the United Kingdom. 

Lee’s statements meant primarily for a Singaporean audience

However, "Lee’s statements related to events in Singapore, and were meant primarily for a Singaporean audience", the joint Shanmugam-Vivian statement explained.

The statement further noted that Lee's primary audience was not in the UK.

"We have sued Mr Lee for a libel that was published to the people in Singapore, which concerns Singaporeans, and which is based on the laws of Singapore", the statement added.

The statement also said that Lee should welcome the opportunity to defend himself in an "open Court" where he can cross-examine the two ministers and where the two ministers can cross-examine him, all in the full view of the Singapore public.

Background: Timeline

July 23

On July 23, Lee wrote on his Facebook account, among other things, that “two ministers have leased state-owned mansions from the agency that one of them controls, felling trees and getting state-sponsored renovations”.

July 27

On July 27, Shanmugam said in a Facebook post that Lee had accused him and Balakrishnan of "acting corruptly and for personal gain by having Singapore Land Authority (SLA) give us preferential treatment by illegally felling trees without approval, and also having SLA pay for renovations to 26 and 31 Ridout Road".

Both Cabinet ministers sent lawyers' letters to Lee on July 27.

They said they would sue unless Lee apologised, withdrew his allegations and paid S$25,000 in damages that would be donated to charity, according to The Straits Times.

The letter also demanded that Lee post a public apology on his Facebook page for four weeks.

Lee did not comply with the demands.

July 29

On July 29, Lee said on Facebook that he was simply stating facts and added that the two ministers should sue him in Britain, as he was in Britain at the time.

Aug. 2

On Aug. 2, the two ministers filed separate defamation suits in the High Court against Lee.

According to The Straits Times, the quantum of damages they seek were not specified in their statement of claims.

The High Court usually deals with cases where the amount claimed exceeds S$250,000.

Lawyers sent a letter to Lee via Facebook Messenger that day, informing him that defamation proceedings had commenced against him in the Singapore courts.

Aug. 14

On Aug. 14, the ministers’ lawyers applied to the court for permission to serve the papers on Lee in the United Kingdom.

Their affidavits, dated Aug. 14, said Lee's post have caused the ministers to be "gravely injured in (their) character and reputation, and have been brought into public scandal, odium and contempt", and they have suffered loss and damage.

Both gave reasons why the case should be heard in Singapore: The plaintiffs were ministers and in Singapore and that the offending words refer to events in Singapore.

Aug. 16

On Aug. 16, the two ministers were granted permission to serve the papers out of jurisdiction on Lee.

Lee was to file a document indicating whether he intended to contest the claim within 21 days after the papers were served on him, the court order stated.

Aug. 28

On Aug. 28, the ministers’ lawyers filed the application for substituted service by Facebook Messenger.

The suit was scheduled for a case conference on Sep. 5, 2023.

If, upon receiving the papers, Lee does not respond within a stipulated timeframe, the claimants can apply for the courts to enter a default judgment, meaning they would be successful in their claims by default.

Lee is the brother of Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and the younger son of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's first prime minister.

Lee and his wife Lee Suet Fern left Singapore after declining to attend a police interview in July 2022 over a separate matter.

Top images via MCI/YouTube & Progress Singapore Party/YouTube.