Singapore: A 34-year-old Singaporean blogger was today ordered to pay 150,000 dollars in damages to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for defaming and accusing him of misappropriating government funds.
The Supreme Court made the ruling, stating that the payment will comprise of SGD 100,000 in general damages and SGD 50,000 in aggravated damages. “While the cases indicate that the damages awarded to Prime Ministers who have been defamed have been substantial, some in excess of SGD 300,000, none of them involved a defendant of modest standing. The comparatively low standing of the defendant warranted a substantial reduction,” a judgement from Justice Lee Seiu Kin stated.
Ngerng, a former healthcare programme coordinator at state-run Tan Tock Seng Hospital, had written a blogpost in May 2014 allegedly comparing the Government’s usage of Central Provident Fund (CPF) monies to the City Harvest Church leaders’ alleged misuse of church funds.
Roy charged that the Government did so via its investment arms, Temasek Holdings and Government Investment Corp (GIC). City Harvest leaders were convicted recently for mismanagement of SGD 50 million donated by church goers to promote gospel by building a career of a leader’s wife.
The blogger was ordered by the court to no longer publish any assertions that Lee was misappropriating CPF monies. He was also ordered to pay Lee SGD 29,000 for legal fees and related expenses that were borne leading up to the application for the summary judgement, Channel News Asia reported.
The judge held that allegations of corrupt and criminal conduct could have severe repercussions, especially if levelled against the leader of a country. “In the present case, the allegations that the plaintiff had criminally misappropriated monies paid by citizens to a state-administered pension fund was one of the gravest that could be made against any individual, let alone a head of government” the judgement read.
It struck at the heart of one’s personal integrity and severely undermined the credibility of the target, and was a grave defamation that a fair-minded person would react with indignation,” it said.
Justice Kin noted that while Ngerng apologised to Lee, it could be concluded from articles and emails he wrote after that he was “not contrite”. The judge also concluded that the defendant’s conduct was “malicious” as Ngerng knew his blogpost claims were false and injurious to Lee, but still published it.
“It was likely that the defendant had cynically defamed the plaintiff in order to increase viewership of the blog,” the judgement read. In July, Lee himself took the stand for about six hours for the hearing in the court.
His lawyers asked for “a very high award of damages”, citing “malice and continuing attacks” by the blogger. The court also heard that Ngerng had offered to settle the damages for a sum of SGD 10,000 but this was rejected by Lee as “derisory”.