Singapore activist ordered to pay PM USD22,000

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 13 2015 02:48 AM | Updated as of Jan 13 2015 01:27 PM

A Singapore court on Monday ordered a local activist to pay $22,000 in legal costs to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who had won a defamation suit against him.

Roy Ngerng is also expected separately to pay thousands more in damages to Lee, who sued the blogger for libel after he accused the Singapore leader of misappropriating state pension funds.

Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin said in a statement that a High Court judge at a hearing on Monday ordered Ngerng to pay the prime minister SGD29,000 (USD22,000).

"This amount is for the legal fees and related expenses incurred up to the conclusion of the application for summary judgement," the statement said.

The High Court ruled in a summary judgement last November that Ngerng, a former government employee, had defamed Lee in his blog.

It was the first such ruling in the city-state over a purely online article.

Ngerng, who writes a blog called Heart Truths, was seeking a trial to defend himself but High Court Judge Lee Seiu Kin ruled there was "no triable defence against the plaintiff's claim" and issued the judgement.

No dates have yet been set for the subsequent hearings to determine damages payable to Lee, his press secretary said.

But in general, such civil suits are launched in the High Court when the value of claims is above Sg$250,000.

Ngerng had already admitted that his May 15, 2014 blog accusing the prime minister, who is also chairman of state investment fund GIC, of misusing the Central Provident Fund (CPF) was false and without foundation.

He offered Sg$5,000 as compensation to Lee, who rejected the amount.

GIC is a sovereign wealth fund that manages more than $100 billion of the city-state's foreign reserves. The CPF is the state pension scheme.

Ngerng on Monday said in a statement he was merely questioning what he deemed was a "lack of transparency" in how the pension funds were being managed.

"I did not say anything that is defamatory or against the law," he said.

"It is my right to... be able to speak freely, as enshrined under the constitution."

After he was sued by Lee, Ngerng, who has also led public protests over the CPF issue, was fired from his government hospital job for administrative reasons which he did not contest.

In June he successfully raised more than Sg$112,000 through crowdfunding in order to fight the case, with over 4,000 people contributing cash.

Singapore has consistently ranked high in surveys as one of the world's least corrupt countries, but rights groups say its leaders have used financially ruinous defamation suits to silence critics and political opponents.

Media firms like Bloomberg, The Economist and the Financial Times as well as local opposition figures have previously paid damages and apologised to Singapore leaders for publishing articles found to be defamatory.

Singaporean leaders maintain that the lawsuits are necessary to protect their reputations from unfounded allegations.