July 1, 2015 / 10:40 AM / 2 years ago

Singapore PM takes to the stand for hours in blogger defamation case

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took the stand for nearly seven hours on Wednesday, answering questions from a blogger he has successfully sued for defamation as the Supreme Court tried to decide how much he should be paid in damages.

Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong winds down the window to wave to photographers as he arrives for a damages hearing against blogger Roy Ngerng at the Supreme Court in Singapore July 1, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Lee sued Roy Ngerng, 34, for a blog last year in which the defendant was alleged to have implicated Lee in impropriety in connection with how funds in Singapore’s mandatory retirement savings scheme are managed.

The court has already ordered Ngerng to pay S$29,000 ($21,700) to Lee to cover legal costs. Wednesday’s hearing, which is expected to last until the end of the week, is to decide damages.

The government in Southeast Asia’s financial hub keeps a very tight leash on the media, but has in recent years started facing challenges from social media where issues including immigration, cost of living and gay rights are hotly debated.

Its leaders have previously sued or settled out of court with foreign media for alleged defamation, but this is the first time a blogger has faced such action.

Ngerng, acting as his own counsel, started off by apologizing.

“I‘m not here to dispute the judgment,” he said.

Lee said that Ngerng was not serious about wanting to solve the issue in court.

“He wanted to make as big a dent in my reputation as he could,” Lee told the court.

Lee’s lawyers said Ngerng knowingly and maliciously published a vicious libel and later capitalized on it to promote himself as a champion of free speech.

In a statement to the court, Lee’s lawyers did not specify a figure but asked for “a very high award of damages”.

Ngerng had offered S$5,000 to Lee, which was rejected. Another offer of S$10,000 offer was also turned down. Lee and his lawyers didn’t consider the offers sincere.

Previous awards in defamation cases involving government ministers in Singapore ranged from S$100,000 to S$400,000, they said.

Editing by Nick Macfie

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