Singapore blogger Roy Ngerng is being sued for libel after admitting to making false claims about Singapore’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong looting money from state coffers, the Wall Street Journal reported.
It is the first time a Singapore blogger has been sued for libel by a government leader, according to the Wall Street Journal. A Singapore author, Sudhir Vadaketh, likened the case to David vs. Goliath.
Ngerng blogged May 15 that the prime minister “had misappropriated public money from the Central Provident Fund, a state-run pension system.” The article was titled “Where your CPF Money Is Going: Learning From The City Harvest Trial.”
Ngerng told iMediaEthics he is a healthcare worker who has been blogging in his spare time for the past two years about his personal interests, including “wages, retirement funds, healthcare and education.” He said he doesn’t earn any money from his blog.
On May 23, he published an apology for the article and said his story was wrong.
“I recognise 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 wrote.
He went on,
“I admit and acknowledge that this allegation is false and completely without foundation.”
“I unreservedly apologise to Mr Lee Hsien Loong for the distress and embarrassment caused to him by this allegation.”
iMediaEthics asked Ngerng for more information about the story in question. We asked how the story was wrong and if it was because of a misinterpretation of information or bad information provided by a source.
However, Ngerng told iMediaEthics he can’t comment on the case. He did tell us that he’s written “several times” during the past two years about what he said he claimed was “evidence on several government websites on how the retirement funds of Singaporeans, our Central Provident Fund (CPF), are invested in the government’s two investment firms, GIC and Temasek Holdings.” He did not show iMediaEthics these government website pages.
According to Ngerng’s claim as told to iMediaEthics, “the government has since changed or removed the information on their websites which hides this fact.”
Ngerng Tried to Settle
Ngerng also tried to settle the lawsuit by paying Lee 5,000 Singapore dollars (almost $4,000), but Lee is still pursing the case.
Lee’s lawyer Davinder Singh called the proposed settlement a mockery.
“Your client’s offer of S$5,000 is derisory and completely disregards the gravity of (his) conduct, the undisputed fact that the libel is false and malicious, and (his) calculated and systematic aggravation of the injury and distress to our client,” Today Online quoted lawyer Singh as saying in response.
iMediaEthics asked if an alternative settlement was proposed but Ngerng said he can’t comment about that. He wrote:
“I am not able to comment on this case again! Sorry! But the pre-trial conference has been set for 4 July 2014.”
Ngerng’s lawyer had said in a legal letter to Lee’s lawyer, which Ngerng published on his blog, that said the payment was “based on our client’s modest living and income that he derives from working as a health care worker.”
According to Singapore newspaper Today Online, Ngerng unpublished “four blog posts and a YouTube video largely about CPF issues as well as to not further publish similar content through various channels, to avoid payment of aggravated damages.”
Ngerng Crowd-Funded Money for his Case
Because his settlement was not accepted, Ngerng crowd-funded money to help him in the case. He said he has received more than $80,000, according to the Wall Street Journal.
We asked Ngerng about his crowd-funding, which he said was to help pay his legal fees related to this case, which he said may last a year.
“I am heartened by the support and encouragement that is coming in from Singaporeans,” he wrote.
He added that “From my understanding, many Singaporeans are frustrated by the government’s lack of response to their concerns about our retirement funds.”
iMediaEthics has also written to the prime minister’s lawyer for comment.
Singapore ranks 150 of 180 countries in Reporters without Borders’ 2014 press freedom index.