Lee Hsien Loong v Roy Ngerng Yi Ling

JurisdictionSingapore
JudgeLee Seiu Kin J
Judgment Date17 December 2015
Neutral Citation[2015] SGHC 320
Plaintiff CounselDavinder Singh SC, Angela Cheng, Samantha Tan and Imran Rahim (Drew & Napier LLC)
Docket NumberSuit No 569 of 2014 (Assessment of Damages No 20 of 2015)
Date17 December 2015
Hearing Date02 July 2015,01 July 2015,31 August 2015,03 July 2015
Subject MatterDefamation,Tort,Damages
Year2015
Citation[2015] SGHC 320
Defendant CounselThe defendant in person.
CourtHigh Court (Singapore)
Published date22 December 2015
Lee Seiu Kin J: Introduction

On 7 November 2014, I found that an article entitled “Where Your CPF Money Is Going: Learning From The City Harvest Trial” (“the Article”) written by the defendant was defamatory of the plaintiff. I held that certain words and images in the Article conveyed the meaning that the plaintiff was guilty of criminal misappropriation of the monies paid by Singaporeans to the Central Provident Fund (“the CPF”). I therefore ordered that the defendant be restrained from publishing or disseminating this allegation and any words and/or images to the same effect. I granted interlocutory judgment to the plaintiff with damages to be assessed. This judgment pertains to the assessment of damages payable by the defendant to the plaintiff.

The background facts

The relevant facts are set out at length in my judgment in respect of the plaintiff’s application in Summons No 3403 of 2014 (SUM 3403/2014): see Lee Hsien Loong v Roy Ngerng Yi Ling [2014] SGHC 230 (“LHL v Roy Ngerng”). Nevertheless, for convenience, I set out below the salient facts of the matter. I have also expanded on the acts of the defendant subsequent to the publication of the Article as they are relevant to the issue of the quantum of damages.

The Article

The plaintiff is the Prime Minister of Singapore. He is also the Chairman of GIC Private Limited (“GIC”), which manages the nation’s sovereign wealth fund. The defendant is the owner and writer of the blog “The Heart Truths to Keep Singaporeans Thinking by Roy Ngerng Yi Ling” (“the Blog”). On or about 15 May 2014, the defendant published the Article on the Blog. The parts of the Article which I held to be defamatory are as follows (“the Defamatory Material”):

The Heart Truths

To Keep Singaporeans Thinking by Roy Ngerng

...

Where Your CPF Money Is Going: Learning From the City Harvest Trial

Last week, Channel NewsAsia reported about how, “The founder of City Harvest Church Kong Hee and his five deputies [are] accused of misusing millions of church building funds.”

According to Channel NewsAsia, “The court accepted that there is evidence to show that the monies were moved from the church to the various firms to generate a false appearance that the church’s investments were redeemed. The judge said the six had been dishonest in the use of the money.”

It was also reported that, “Judge See said the auditors’ opinions were “only as good as the information they were given”.”

Below is the chart that Channel NewsAsia had created to show the relations of Kong Hee and his five deputies, and the funds that they have misappropriated.

Meanwhile, something bears an uncanny resemblance to how the money is being misappropriated.

Channel NewsAsia had reported that, “The court accepted that there is evidence to show that the monies were moved from the church to the various firms to generate a false appearance that the church’s investments were redeemed. The judge said the six had been dishonest in the use of the money.”

“Judge See said the auditors’ opinions were “only as good as the information they were given”.”

Meanwhile, the GIC claims that the “GIC manages the Government’s reserves, but as to how the funds from CPF monies flow into reserves which could then be managed by either MAS, GIC or Temasek, this is not made explicit to us.” The GIC also claims that, “The Government, which is represented by the Ministry of Finance in its dealings with GIC, neither directs nor interferes in the company’s investment decisions. It holds the board accountable for the overall portfolio performance.” However, the PAP prime minister, the two deputy prime ministers and the ministers for Trade and Industry and Education also sit on the board of directors. Lee Hsien Loong is the Chairman and Lee Kuan Yew is the Senior Advisor.

...

The defendant also published a link to the Article on his Facebook page and The Heart Truths’ Facebook page on that day.

The plaintiff’s letter of demand

On 18 May 2014, the plaintiff issued a letter of demand to the defendant through his solicitors (“the Letter of Demand”), which set out the web address at which the Article could be found and the manner in which the Article was said to be defamatory. The plaintiff demanded that the defendant: Immediately remove the Article from the Blog. Immediately remove the links to the Article on the defendant’s Facebook page and on The Heart Truths’ Facebook page. Publish, at his own expense, within three days of the date of the Letter of Demand, an apology and an undertaking in terms of the draft which was enclosed to the Letter of Demand. The apology and undertaking were to be published without any amendment with prominence on the homepage of the Blog. The said apology and undertaking were to remain on the Blog for the same number of days that the Article remained on it. Compensate the plaintiff by way of damages. Indemnify the plaintiff in respect of the costs and expenses which he would have incurred in connection with the matter.

The defendant was also requested to confirm in writing that he would comply with the demands and provide an offer for damages and costs within three days from the date of the Letter of Demand. This deadline was subsequently extended to 23 May 2014.

The defendant’s subsequent publications

On 19 May 2014, the defendant published on the Blog an article entitled “I Have Just Been Sued By The Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong” (“the 19 May Article”). The Letter of Demand was reproduced on the Blog on the same day. The relevant parts of the 19 May Article are as follows:

Hello everyone, I am Roy Ngerng. I am an ordinary citizen in Singapore who believes in speaking up for my country and my fellow citizens. Over the past 2 years, I have written nearly 400 articles about what is happening in Singapore. I have advocated for a fairer and more equal Singapore where every Singapore (sic) and every person in Singapore can be taken care of and protected by our country. As of today, there have been nearly 2 million views on my blog.

Today, I received an email from Lee Hsien Loong’s lawyer. I am being sued for defamation. I have tried my best to speak up for my country. I have tried my best to advocate for my fellow citizens. However, today, I am sued by the very government which should be protecting its citizens, such as me. This is disappointing.

I have reproduced the [Letter of Demand] in this blog.

I have exposed many truths about the Singapore government and how they have intentionally planned since 1984 to gun down on Singaporeans. Today, I am finally being silenced. It is disappointing that the government has decided to turn against ordinary Singaporeans.

To know why the government is on my heels, you need to read the following articles to find out why:

It is only right that as citizens, we stand up for our country and we stand up for one another. It is only right that as people, we stand and fight for our freedoms. When faced with tyranny and treachery, we have to remain strong and united, and fight the wrongs that are wrought upon us.

For our future, for our rights and for our families and children, we need to stand and fight.

It’s time we stand united. It’s time we fight.

On 20 May 2014, the defendant published on the Blog another article that he had written entitled “YOUR CPF: The Complete Truth And Nothing But The Truth” (“the 20 May Article”). It read:

Due to impending legal action, there are constraints that I am facing. Whatever my decision [may] be, I will continue to keep my head up high and stay optimistic. I have always believed in justice, fairness and equality and believe that it is a right for everyone to be protected and to live lives that are respected. I will continue to do my part to speak up on behalf of ordinary Singaporeans like us, and to advocate for transparency and accountability.

The government had actually not taken issue with the articles that I have written on the CPF. Today, I am going to show you once and for all how our CPF is being used. By the end of this article, you will know why the CPF is a time bomb waiting to happen. The CPF forms the bedrock of the whole government’s plan to entrap Singaporeans. And when you realise the truth, you will know why it’s time to stand up and fight to protect ourselves. And you will know why I have stuck my head out to do so – if we don’t fight for ourselves, no one else would (sic).

The defendant’s apology and offer of damages

On 21 May 2014, at around 5.00pm, the defendant removed the Article from the Blog. He, through his then-solicitors, subsequently sent a letter to the plaintiff’s solicitors (“the Apology Letter”) on 23 May 2014. It stated that the defendant recognised “that the Article means and is understood to mean that Mr Lee Hsien Loong, the Prime Minister of Singapore and Chairman of GIC, is guilty of criminal misappropriation of the monies paid by Singaporeans to the Central Provident Fund”. He also stated that “this allegation is false and completely without foundation” and “unreservedly apologise[s]” for causing the plaintiff “distress and embarrassment” by the allegation. The Apology Letter also requested that the plaintiff consider dropping his demand for damages. The defendant also published two articles on the Blog on the same day (“the 23 May Articles”) – one entitled “Letter To Lee Hsien Loong On Defamation Suit And Opportunity For ‘Open Dialogue’” in which the Apology Letter was published; and another entitled “Apology and Undertaking to Lee Hsien Loong” which contained his apology together with an undertaking not to make any further allegations of this nature.

The request to the plaintiff to drop his demand for damages was turned down by the plaintiff’s solicitors, who maintained the plaintiff’s right to damages. The defendant was informed of this by his then-solicitors on 24 May 2014 and he published the following...

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7 cases
  • Lee Hsien Loong v Leong Sze Hian
    • Singapore
    • High Court (Singapore)
    • 24 March 2021
    ...Standard Ltd [2011] 1 WLR 2973 (refd) Lee Hsien Loong v Leong Sze Hian [2019] SGHC 66 (refd) Lee Hsien Loong v Ngerng Yi Ling Roy [2016] 1 SLR 1321, HC (refd) Lee Hsien Loong v Roy Ngerng Yi Ling [2014] SGHC 230 (refd) Lee Hsien Loong v Singapore Democratic Party [2007] 1 SLR(R) 675; [2007]......
  • Jasmin Nisban v Chan Boon Siang and others
    • Singapore
    • District Court (Singapore)
    • 31 July 2023
    ...of the defamer, the greater will be the impact of the defamation and degree of injury: see Lee Hsien Loong v Ngerng Yi Ling Roy [2016] 1 SLR 1321 (“Roy Ngerng”) at [33]. As succinctly articulated in Koh Sin Chong Freddie at [37] citing McGregor on Damages (Sweet & Maxwell, 18th Ed, 2009) at......
  • Liew Wei Yen Ashley v Soh Rui Yong
    • Singapore
    • District Court (Singapore)
    • 22 September 2021
    ...painted as someone who would cause the truth to be covered. Third party publication The High Court in Lee Hsien Loong v Roy Ngerng Ling [2015] SGHC 320 (“Roy Ngerng”) stated that third party republication of defamatory material on the internet is relevant to the assessment of damages101 and......
  • Tan Li-Ching Olivia (Chen Lijing Olivia) v Lek Wee Tong
    • Singapore
    • District Court (Singapore)
    • 17 August 2021
    ...her honesty, particularly so since they levelled accusations of criminal conduct against her (see Lee Hsien Loong v Ngerng Yi Ling Roy [2016] 1 SLR 1321 at [26]–[27]). The gravity of the defamation was further enhanced by the inclusion of a link to the Bloomberg Article, which as a reputabl......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • FAKE NEWS, FREE SPEECH AND FINDING CONSTITUTIONAL CONGRUENCE
    • Singapore
    • Singapore Academy of Law Journal No. 2020, December 2020
    • 1 December 2020
    ...before the date the Declaration is made. See s 32(1) of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (Act 18 of 2019). 48 [2016] 1 SLR 1321. 49 Lee Hsien Loong v Ngerng Yi Ling Roy [2016] 1 SLR 1321 at [97]. 50 Review Publishing Co Ltd v Lee Hsien Loong [2010] 1 SLR 52 at [282......

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