Goh Chok Tong v Chee Soon Juan (No 2)

JurisdictionSingapore
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
JudgeKan Ting Chiu J
Judgment Date06 January 2005
Neutral Citation[2005] SGHC 3
Citation[2005] SGHC 3
Published date06 January 2005
Plaintiff CounselDavinder Singh SC, Hri Kumar, Nicolas Tang (Drew and Napier LLC)
Date06 January 2005
Defendant CounselThe defendant in person
Docket NumberSuit No 1460 of 2001
Subject MatterDefendant alleging plaintiff mishandling nation's funds,Defamation,Damages,Tort,Principles of assessment,Assessment of damages,Quantification of damages

6 January 2005

Judgment reserved.

Kan Ting Chiu J:

1 This matter came before me for damages to be assessed following a finding that the defendant had defamed the plaintiff.

2 The plaintiff, Mr Goh Chok Tong (“Mr Goh”), was the Prime Minister of Singapore until he assumed the office of Senior Minister on 12 August 2004. The defendant, Dr Chee Soon Juan, was and is the Secretary-General of the Singapore Democratic Party.

The subject words

3 This action arose out of words the defendant said in the course of campaigning in the 2001 Parliamentary General Elections on 28 October 2001 at two venues, namely the Hong Kah West Hawker Centre (which were referred to in these proceedings as “the Hong Kah words”) and at an election rally at Nee Soon Central (which were referred to in these proceedings as “the Nee Soon words”).

4 This action was filed and prosecuted in conjunction with Suit No 1459 of 2001, Lee Kuan Yew v Chee Soon Juan. That action which was commenced by the Minister Mentor and then Senior Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew (“Mr Lee”) related to the Nee Soon words.

The Hong Kah words

5 The first set of words complained of were spoken in the morning. While giving an interview with the print and broadcast media, the defendant said

we kept saying Suharto, Suharto, Suharto find me one word, just that one word in Suharto in today’s Straits Times did anybody say it? But that’s the most important thing in our campaign right now, alright? It’s a fact that this Government will not help our workers and they take all the money overseas, either investments in loans, they are not getting it back, and then they try to get it from people through taxes again …

6 Upon seeing the plaintiff a short distance away, the defendant shouted:

Mr Goh! Mr Goh! Come here Mr Goh! I want to talk with you, come here! Where is our money Mr Goh? You can run, but you cannot hide.

and then he approached Mr Harun Abdul Ghani, a former Member of Parliament and said:

He took $17 billion, 1998 you cannot run away! $17 billion you lent it to Suharto. Number one, you were a Member of Parliament, did he tell you? You represent the people! Why didn’t you say anything? You were wrong, that is very wrong.

The Nee Soon words

7 In the same evening, the defendant said at an election rally:

So when we met … when we met Goh Chok Tong this morning during our walkabout, he was there just about 3 or 4 feet away, I asked him, “Mr Goh, what happened to our money? What happened to this $17 billion?” He wouldn’t answer. He just waved us on. I am very serious about this. My friends, it is your money, this is your money, no, not the Government’s money, not Goh Chok Tong’s money. It is your money. And when I asked him and he waved us on, it hit me, it hit me very clearly, that the Government will not answer you. The Government can say, “No, I am not interested in answering you, because you are not in Parliament … But if you get Mr Ling How Doong from SDP into Parliament, this guarantee I give you, the first question that he will ask is what happened to your $17 billion? … And this is the same question that I want to ask Mr Lee Kuan Yew … So Mr Lee Kuan Yew, I challenge you, tell us about the $17 billion you loaned to Suharto.

8 The plaintiff’s case is that the words set out here in italics (“the subject words”) defamed him.

The apologies

The first and second apologies

9 On 29 October 2001, Mr Lee Kuan Yew (“Mr Lee”), then the Senior Minister, and now the Minister Mentor, demanded that the defendant withdraw the allegations and apologise to the plaintiff. On the same day, the defendant wrote to the plaintiff:

With reference to the incident at the Hawker Centre at Jurong East on the morning of 28 October 2001, I wish to reiterate my position that politics should not be conducted at the personal level.

As such I wish to let you know that if I have offended you in a personal manner during our meeting I would like to extend to you my sincerest apologies.

At the political level, however, I stand by the issues that I have been raising in this election.

I shall refer to this as the first apology.

10 On the following day, he issued a media release that:

The only reason why we brought up the issue about the $17b loan to Indonesia was to compare it with the $2.1b the SDP has proposed to help retrenched workers in Singapore. There was never any intention to cast any aspersion on anyone, least of all Mr Goh Chok Tong. I therefore withdraw my allegation that Mr Goh was dishonest and not fit to be the Prime Minister. I offer to him my apologies.

I shall refer to this as the second apology.

The retracted apology

11 The plaintiff was not placated by those apologies. He instructed his solicitors, Drew & Napier LLC, to write to the defendant. The solicitors informed the defendant on 30 October 2001 that he had falsely accused the plaintiff of being dishonest and unfit for office because he had concealed from or misled Parliament and the public on a $17bn loan made to Indonesia and had continued to evade the issue because he had something discreditable to hide about the transaction.

12 The solicitors also informed him that the plaintiff demanded that he agree by 10.00am on 2 November 2001 to:

(a) publish, at [his] expense, an apology and undertaking in terms of the draft now enclosed. The apology and undertaking is to be published with appropriate prominence in the 31st October, 1st, 2nd or 3rd November edition of the Straits Times and the Today newspaper;

(b) read out the said apology at an SDP rally no later than 10 pm on 2nd November 2001;

(c) compensate [the plaintiff] by way of damages; and

(d) agree to indemnify [the plaintiff] in respect of the costs which he will have incurred in connection with this matter.

13 The defendant complied with the demands. On 31 October 2001 he read out an apology in the set form at a rally at Jurong East:

1. On Sunday 28 October 2001, during a walkabout at Jurong GRC and, later, at a rally at Nee Soon Central, I made certain statements which were understood to mean that Singapore’s Prime Minister, Mr Goh Chok Tong, is dishonest and unfit for office because

(a) Mr Goh Chok Tong concealed from Parliament and the public, and/or deliberately misled Parliament in relation to, a $17 billion loan made to Indonesia; and

(b) Mr Goh Chok Tong’s continued evasion of the issue was because he had something discreditable to hid about the transaction.

2. I admit and acknowledge that I had no basis for making these allegations, and that they are false and untrue.

3. I, Chee Soon Juan, do hereby unreservedly withdraw these allegations and apologise to Mr Goh Chok Tong for the distress and embarrassment caused to him by my false and baseless allegations.

4. I hereby also undertake not to make any further allegations or statements to the same or similar effect. I also wish to state that I have agreed to pay Mr Goh Chok Tong damages by way of compensation and to indemnify him for all costs and expenses incurred by him in connection with this matter.

and he also caused the apology to be published in The Straits Times and Today newspapers on 1 November 2001.

14 When the defendant failed to pay the promised compensation and costs, the plaintiff brought these proceedings against him.

The action

15 The plaintiff’s action was framed on two bases. The first was that the plaintiff and the defendant had entered into a binding compromise whereby the defendant was to perform the acts set out in the letter of 30 October 2001, and the plaintiff impliedly agreed not to ask for full damages that he would otherwise be entitled to.

16 The alternative claim was for defamation. The plaintiff complained that the natural and ordinary meaning, as well as the innuendo meaning of the Hong Kah words and the Nee Soon words, was that the plaintiff is dishonest and unfit for office because:

(a) the Plaintiff concealed from Parliament and the public, and/or deliberately misled Parliament in relation to, a S$17 billion loan made to Indonesia; and

(b) the Plaintiff’s continued evasion of the issue was because he had something discreditable to hide about the transaction.

17 The defendant resisted the claim and filed a defence. He also commenced third party proceedings, but did not prosecute them. In his defence, he denied speaking the words the plaintiff complained of, that those words referred to the plaintiff, that they were defamatory, and that he was liable for the republication of the words, and he pleaded the defences of justification, qualified privilege and fair comment. He...

To continue reading

Request your trial
6 cases
  • Lee Hsien Loong v Singapore Democratic Party
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 13 October 2008
    ...and $230,000 in Suit No 244 of 1997. The aggregate of the awards so ordered was $700,000. 92 In Goh Chok Tong v Chee Soon Juan (No 2) [2005] 1 SLR 573, the defendant, CSJ, had in the course of campaigning during the 2001 general election alleged that the plaintiff, Mr Goh, was very wrong in......
  • Lee Hsien Loong v Roy Ngerng Yi Ling
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 17 December 2015
    ...and their reputations are vital to their ability to lead and to be given the mandate to govern. In Goh Chok Tong v Chee Soon Juan [2005] 1 SLR(R) 573 (“GCT v CSJ”), Kan Ting Chiu J said at [40]–[42]: 40 The plaintiff was at the material time the Prime Minister and Secretary-General of the P......
  • Lee Hsien Loong v Singapore Democratic Party and Others and Another Suit
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 13 October 2008
    ...and $230,000 in Suit No 244 of 1997. The aggregate of the awards so ordered was $700,000. 92 In Goh Chok Tong v Chee Soon Juan (No 2) [2005] 1 SLR 573, the defendant, CSJ, had in the course of campaigning during the 2001 general election alleged that the plaintiff, Mr Goh, was very wrong in......
  • Atu v Aty
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 16 July 2015
    ...[2004] 1 SLR (R) 153; [2004] 1 SLR 153 (refd) Gleaner Co Ltd, The v Abrahams [2004] 1 AC 628 (refd) Goh Chok Tong v Chee Soon Juan [2005] 1 SLR (R) 573; [2005] 1 SLR 573 (refd) Goh Chok Tong v Jeyaretnam Joshua Benjamin [1997] 3 SLR (R) 46; [1998] 1 SLR 547 (refd) Golden Season Pte Ltd v Ka......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
6 books & journal articles
  • Tort Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2005, December 2005
    • 1 December 2005
    ...and the two defamation cases of Lee Kuan Yew v Chee Soon Juan (No 2)[2005] 1 SLR 552 and Goh Chok Tong v Chee Soon Juan (No 2)[2005] 1 SLR 573. In Macquarie, Kan J had awarded the plaintiff aggravated damages, the quantum of which was to be assessed at the subsequent assessment hearing. In ......
  • Administrative and Constitutional Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2006, December 2006
    • 1 December 2006
    ...might note that the public standing of politicians has been treated as a factor for higher damages: Goh Chok Tong v Chee Soon Juan (No 2)[2005] 1 SLR 573 at [71]. 1.100 Ang J noted that the common law defences of justification, qualified privilege and fair comment were raised only as bare a......
  • Administrative and Constitutional Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2015, December 2015
    • 1 December 2015
    ...was reflected in the quantum of damages awarded to this class of plaintiffs. The court also noted in Goh Chok Tong v Chee Soon Juan[2005] 1 SLR(R) 573 that where the speaker and the object of the speech are ‘prominent public figures’, the public perception of their integrity would affect th......
  • Administrative and Constitutional Law
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review Nbr. 2005, December 2005
    • 1 December 2005
    ...‘high standing’ of certain politicians or public office holders have yielded aggravated damages. In Goh Chok Tong v Chee Soon Juan (No 2)[2005] 1 SLR 573, the standing of the parties was one of the factors considered in the quantification of damages as the case involved the Prime Minister o......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT