Singapore PM takes the stand in defamation case against blogger

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore’s prime minister testified in court on Tuesday in his defamation case against a blogger who shared an online article linking him to Malaysia’s 1MBD money-laundering scandal.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong arrives at the High Court for a defamation hearing against blogger Leong Sze Hian in Singapore October 6, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su

As the head of a government that has pledged zero tolerance of corruption, Lee Hsien Loong, 68, is no stranger to seeking to protect his reputation via legal channels.

Lee is suing financial adviser Leong Sze Hian, 66, over a since-deleted November 2018 Facebook post that linked to an article by Malaysian news site, the Coverage.

Lee told the court the article’s accusations were a “grave attack” on his own integrity and reputation and that of the Singapore government, in remarks reported by domestic media.

Lee’s lawyers have previously said Leong shared the post “maliciously” to damage their client, which Leong has denied.

For several hours on Tuesday, Leong’s lawyer questioned Lee as to why he chose to sue his client, a frequent commentator and critic of government policies, and not the original author and others who shared the article.

Lee, the world’s best-paid political leader, said his decision followed discussion with his lawyer and was the best way to vindicate his reputation, according to the Straits Times newspaper and broadcaster Channel NewsAsia.

The trial is expected to run until the end of the week.

Senior figures in the People’s Action Party, including Lee’s late father and the founder of modern-day Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, have previously sued foreign media, political opponents and online commentators for defamation.

Singapore keeps tight controls of domestic media and adopted a ‘fake news’ law last year that critics said could further erode free speech in the wealthy city-state. The government says it does not curb legitimate criticism or free speech.

Lee last took the stand in 2015 to answer questions from a blogger he had sued for implicating him in impropriety over the management of funds in Singapore’s mandatory retirement savings scheme.

In a twist ahead of this week’s trial, Leong’s lawyer Lim Tean, who heads a small opposition party that unsuccessfully competed in this year’s election, was arrested for alleged criminal breach of trust.

Lim said the arrest was politically motivated, which the police denied, and he was released before the hearing.

Reporting by John Geddie and Edgar Su; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez