TOC Slander Trial: Sibling Hostility Clear, But Prime Minister Lee Hopes ‘Cases Can Be Fixed One Day’



SINGAPORE: While his relationship with his siblings is “not in the best of shape” and “hostility is evident” on their side, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he and his wife, Ms. Ho Ching, don’t want the family feud to continue.

“I hope against the hope that one day things can be fixed. But it is one of those things that happens in life and this too will pass, ”he said on Monday (November 30) during the first day of his defamation trial.

Lee is suing the editor-in-chief of The Online Citizen (TOC) sociopolitical website, Mr Terry Xu, for libel over an article published last August.

The article was titled “PM Lee’s wife Ho Ching strangely shares an article about cutting ties with family members,” referring to an article she posted on Facebook entitled “This is why it is sometimes okay to reconnect with toxic family members. to disconnect “.

Since 2017, Mr. Lee has been engaged in a dispute with his siblings – Dr. Lee Wei Ling and Mr. Lee Hsien Yang – over the fate of their family home at 38 Oxley Road following the death of their father and the founding Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew. .

Lee is seeking damages, including severe damages, an injunction to stop Mr. Xu from publishing or disseminating the allegations, and charges.

The TOC article, Mr. Lee’s attorneys have said, contains false allegations repeated by his siblings that seriously damage his character and reputation.

It also referred to a Facebook post Dr. Lee wrote earlier that year, in which she said Mr. Lee had tricked their father into believing that the Oxley Road house had been published by the government.

Mr. Xu named Mr. Lee’s siblings as third parties in the lawsuit, but will not call them to testify. Mr. Xu’s attorney, Mr. Lim Tean, said on Monday that it is likely that Mr. Xu would also end the third-party proceedings against them.

READ: Court documents allege PM Lee ‘suffered loss and damage’ after publication of The Online Citizen article

READ: PM Lee to testify in court if defamation charges against TOC editor Terry Xu come to court

STANDING FROM OXLEY ROAD PROBLEM: PM

Mr Lim cross-examined on Monday morning with the Prime Minister, who is represented by a team of five attorneys led by Senior Counsel Davinder Singh.

Both attorneys faced charges against Mr Lee against blogger Leong Sze Hian about two months ago.

When Mr. Lim asked the Prime Minister if he and Mdm Ho thought his siblings were “judging and gossiping about you,” Mr. Lee replied, “Unfortunately I have a disagreement with my siblings, and our relationships are not in the best state. Everyone knows that. “

He later added, “I think the animosity on the one hand is evident in my siblings … I’m not thinking on (my and my wife’s) side, we really want this to continue or have something against them. “

Referring to the TOC article, Mr. Lim said the feud between him and his siblings was “clear”.

Mr Lee replied that he broke away from the issue by selling the Oxley Road property to his brother and withdrawing from government handling of the property.

“I have never posted Facebook messages or publicly criticized them. I have said nothing but ministerial statements, ”he said.

“Your wife isn’t hostile to your brothers and sisters?” Mr. Lim asked.

“Indeed. I’m not speaking on her behalf, but I think so,” replied Mr. Lee.

The lawyer then asked, “Why didn’t you invite them to Chinese New Year after your father died?”

Senior Counsel Singh objected to the question and Judge Audrey Lim agreed that the question was irrelevant, reminding Mr. Lim to stick to his client’s defense.

Mr. Lim also urged Mr. Lee to answer why he chose not to sue his siblings, adding that it was “understandable” that Mr. Xu thought he could refer to what they said .

“It’s not understandable,” replied Mr. Lee. ‘What I explained in Parliament is that no one can say anything about the house. It is not carte blanche for anyone else to use that to spread accusations and further slander me. “

When asked by Mr. Lim if he meant that journalists cannot report on his siblings’ allegations, he said they could “report anything that falls under the laws of defamation.”

The attorney further questioned him about how his character and reputation had been harmed, leading to loss and damage.

In response, Mr. Lee said the TOC article “contained very serious allegations against me” and “was read by a significant number of people.”

Mr. Lim then asked Mr. Lee about his performance in the recent general election (GE) in July of this year.

“You did very well in the last general election, didn’t you?” asked Mr. Lim, who was also a GE candidate for the Peoples Voice political party. “I won the election,” said Mr Lee, adding that “it was not a referendum on 38 Oxley Road”.

“The GE is a test of your integrity and reputation, isn’t it?” asked the lawyer.

“If counsel wants to go in this direction, (the People’s Action Party) won 69 percent in 2015. In 2020, we won 61 percent of the popular vote. I will not accept that it is through the house, but if I accept the counsel’s argument, the house did a lot of damage, ”said Mr Lee.

“MY WIFE SHARES WIDELY”: PM LEE

During a cross-examination, Mr. Lee also revealed that he had not read Mdm Ho’s Facebook post leading to the TOC article.

“I was going to read what my wife said, but she said nothing. TOC said she shared. My wife often reads and shares a lot. I have complete confidence in her judgment, ”he added.

Mr. Lim then asked Mr. Lee if it was reasonable for someone reading Mdm’s Ho post to conclude, given the background and context of the dispute, that it was a commentary on his family’s dispute.

Mr. Lee said he disagreed with that statement.

OPENING STATEMENTS

Prior to the cross-examination on Monday, both parties presented their opening statements to the court. A summary of Mr. Lee’s case is as follows:

– Readers of the TOC article will think that Mr. Lee misled his father into thinking that the government would publish the Oxley Road house and that it was useless for Mr. Lee to keep his direction to demolish it

– They will also think he prompted Mr. Lee to consider other alternatives to demolition and changed his will to leave the house to Mr. Lee

– Readers will believe that Mr. Lee removed Mr. Lee as executor and trustee from his will after learning in late 2013 that the government had failed to state the property

A summary of Mr. Xu’s defense is as follows:

– The allegedly defamatory statements, read in the context of the entire article, meant it was ironic for Mdm Ho to share the post “given the published bad relationship” between Mr. Lee and his siblings

– Readers will know it was Mdm Ho who shared the post and the “so-called irony” had nothing to do with Mr. Lee

The trial continues Tuesday morning with Mr. Lee back on the witness stand. He will be the only witness.

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