K Shanmugam and Vivian Balakrishnan Started Lawsuits Against Lee Hsien Yang
After the recent spate of political events that have rocked Singapore, if you thought we were just about to catch a break from all the shenanigans, you thought wrong.
Minister for Law and Home Affairs Mr K Shanmugam and Minister for Foreign Affairs Dr Vivian Balakrishnan have officially sued Mr Lee Hsien Yang in the Singapore High Court for defamation.
According to the hearing list, they are separate lawsuits, but both are scheduled for a Case Conference on 5 September 2023, and both cases are filed in the Supreme Court (which would be the High Court).
A case conference is kind of like a meeting to decide matters of the case, and it’s compulsory for both the claimant and defendant to attend the case conference.
Both ministers are represented by lawyers from Davinder Singh Chambers LLC.
What Triggered These Law Suits?
If you are not caught up on this entire saga, here’s a quick timeline of what has happened so far.
This may or may not get intense, so strap in and try to stay with me, okay?
6 May 2023: Reform Party Chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam questioned Ministers’ rental of Ridout Road state properties
This all started on 6 May 2023, when Reform Party chief Kenneth Jeyaretnam posted a blog post questioning how both Ministers could “afford to pay the market rent for… two of Singapore’s most prime residential properties in Ridout Road.”
For context, Ridout Road lies close to Holland Village, which is known as one of the most affluent areas in Singapore.
Mr Jeyeretnam also questioned if the ministers were “paying less than the fair market value” for their properties.
23 May 2023: PM Lee asks for reports
Marking the start of the investigation into these claims, PM Lee announced that he had already “asked for reports from the relevant agencies setting out the facts.”
Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean was also roped in to review the matter.
28 June 2023: CPIB Probe Releases its Findings
The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), tasked with investigating this incident, reported no wrongdoing and released its report.
It concluded that both Ministers “conducted themselves properly in the two rental transactions.”
3 July 2023: Parliamentary Debate on the Issue
On this day, four ministers delivered ministerial statements during a six-hour parliamentary debate: Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong, Mr Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan themselves.
PM Lee stated that the ministers “retain [his] full confidence,” adding that where they decided to live was their own personal choice.
25 July 2023: Mr Lee Hsien Yang’s Facebook posts
One of Mr Lee’s Facebook posts was issued a POFMA correction direction for a post he made on 23 July 2023, which included untrue statements about the Ridout Road state properties rented by the two ministers.
In his post, he alleged that the state paid for renovations for the ministers’ properties.
These claims were refuted by the Singapore Land Authority, which said that most of the costs incurred were deemed necessary “to ensure that the property is habitable”.
27 July 2023: Mr Shanmugam & Dr Balakrishnan Send Lawyers Letters
Together with Dr Balakrishnan, Mr Shanmugam revealed in a Facebook post that they had sent lawyers’ letters to Mr Lee for defaming them.
As Mr Lee’s allegations were false, they “asked him to apologise, withdraw his allegations and pay damages, which [they would] donate to charity.”
Mr Shanmugam ended the post by saying, “If he does not do so, we will sue him.”
And sue him they did.
So What Now?
At this point, a Writ, which is “a formal document addressed to the defendant which serves to notify them of the proceedings”, will need to be served to Mr Lee.
According to the judiciary, after the sealed Writ has been issued to Mr Lee by the court, “it has to be served personally on the defendant as soon as possible, no later than six months from the date the Writ is issued if the defendant is located in Singapore.”
Even if the defendant is not in Singapore, it must be served no later than 12 months from the issue date.
If Mr Lee fails to respond within the stipulated timeframe, the ministers can apply for the courts to enter a default judgment, ensuring their success by default.
For most defamation cases, if successful, the Court will compensate victims for their damages and order an injunction against the defendant.
For reference, the High Court typically handles cases where the claim exceeds S$250,000.
Other Notable Defamation Cases
This is not the first time defamation suits have hit our High Court.
In 2021, PM Lee was awarded S$210,000 in two defamation lawsuits against Terry Xu and Rubaashini Shunmuganathan, editor and writer of The Online Citizen, respectively.
These suits came after TOC published an article in 2019 on the Oxley Road disputes PM Lee was having with his siblings over their family home.
Even earlier than this, in 2015, Blogger Roy Ngerng was ordered to pay PM Lee S$150,000 for defamation.
Mr Ngerng’s post compared PM Lee with City Harvest Church Leaders, suggesting that PM Lee had misappropriated Singaporeans’ CPF savings.
At this point, if you feel like you need to get some fresh air and a Teh-peng from the second-hand stress and tea spilt, you’re not alone.
But for all my visual learners and tired souls out there, I got you—you can check out our very own video explaining how and why the ministers are suing Mr Lee.
Less than five minutes only, I promise.
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