Defamation Lawsuit Involving Prominent Figures Unfolds in Singapore
September 3, 2023
Two Indian-origin cabinet ministers in Singapore, K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan, have taken legal action against Lee Hsien Yang, the younger brother of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in response to allegations surrounding the rental of state-owned bungalows. The defamation lawsuit, which has captured significant attention, is set to progress as a case conference is scheduled for Tuesday, September 5, at 9 am, according to information provided by the Singapore Courts’ website, as reported by Channel News Asia.
The legal dispute stems from allegations made by Lee Hsien Yang, who had accused the two ministers of “acting corruptly and for personal gain.” In a Facebook post dated July 27, Mr. Shanmugam stated that these allegations included claims of “illegally felling trees without approval” and having the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) pay for renovations to specific properties.
Both ministers had previously issued lawyers’ letters to Lee Hsien Yang in July, demanding an apology, the withdrawal of his allegations, and damages related to the colonial-era bungalows in Ridout Road, which the ministers vehemently deny.
Notably, Lee Hsien Yang and his wife left the country in July 2022, declining to attend a police interview. This interview was related to alleged discrepancies in judicial proceedings concerning the will of his late father and founding Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew.
Mr Shanmugam Clarifies
Mr. Shanmugam has clarified that his rental of the Ridout Road property was intended to prepare for the sale of a family home and not for personal profit. These developments come on the heels of earlier inquiries raised by opposition politician Kenneth Jeyaretnam regarding whether the ministers were paying a fair market rate for the bungalows.
The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) had previously investigated the matter and found no wrongdoing, stating that the two ministers did not receive privileged information, preferential treatment, and that their rental rates were comparable to neighboring properties. The issue was also debated in parliament on July 3.
Lee Hsien Yang has made multiple Facebook posts on the Ridout Road matter both before and after the CPIB’s report and the parliamentary debate. One such post in July resulted in a correction notice being issued under the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), with the Law Ministry asserting that it contained untrue statements. Despite this, Lee Hsien Yang maintained his stance in a subsequent post.
Lee Hsien Yang’s suggestion that the ministers should sue him in the United Kingdom, where he is currently residing, was met with a response that legal action can still be pursued in Singapore, as reported by the media.
As the defamation lawsuit unfolds, it continues to captivate public interest in Singapore, raising questions about the boundaries of free speech and the legal responsibilities of individuals in positions of influence.