Blogger Roy Ngerng, who is being sued by Mr Lee Hsien Loong for defamation, filed his defence on Monday with the High Court.
Mr Lee is also the prime minister of Singapore but is suing Mr Ngerng in his personal capacity.
In his court submissions, Mr Ngerng said while his apology to Mr Lee for an article he wrote on 15 May remains, he nonetheless is disputing Mr Lee’s claims that the article had in fact defamed Mr Lee as claimed in Mr Lee’s lawsuit.
The article had accused Mr Lee of “criminal misappropriation” of Singaporeans’ Central Provident Fund (CPF) monies, said Mr Lee’s lawyers, by comparing the management of CPF monies by the Government Investment Corporation of Singapore – or GIC Pte Ltd – with the ongoing corruption trial of leaders of the City Harvest Church.
Mr Lee’s lawyers from Drew and Napier had issued a letter of demand to Mr Ngerng on 18 May for the latter to withdraw the offending article on Mr Ngerng’s blog.
They also demanded that Mr Ngerng issued an apology and to make an offer of an amount of compensation to Mr Lee.
Mr Ngerng complied with all the demands.
However, Mr Lee’s lawyers dismissed the apology as insincere, and said that their demand for the removal of the article was not complied with, and that the S$5,000 offer of compensation to Mr Lee by Mr Ngerng was “derisory”.
On 12 July, Mr Lee’s lawyers filed an application with the courts for a summary judgment, arguing that Mr Ngerng has accepted and admitted to defaming Mr Lee in his apology, and thus Mr Ngerng has no defence to Mr Lee’s claims.
Mr Lee is also seeking aggravated damages from Mr Ngerng.
The only issue to be determined, Mr Lee’s lawyers say, is the quantum of damages.
Mr Ngerng, represented by lawyer M Ravi, is however disputing this and wants the matter to go to a full trial.
In his affidavit filed on Monday, Mr Ngerng disputes the meanings of the allegedly defamatory article ascribed to it by Mr Lee’s lawyers, and argues that the content of the article “does not convey the twisted meaning” which Mr Lee’s lawyers claim it does.
Instead, Mr Ngerng is arguing that his article had raised two issues – one, transparency of where the funds managed by the GIC and Temasek Holdings originate and who actually manages the CPF funds; two, why Singaporeans do not receive “the full amount of the investment gains from the investment of CPF monies.”
On the first point, Mr Ngerng argues that “there is no transparency in the manner in which CPF monies were invested.”
Mr Ngerng refers to an earlier entry on the website of the GIC, which had said:
“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.”
Mr Ngerng says that the GIC’s “stated position [was] not transparent, as one is unable to discern whether it is MAS, GIC or Temasek that manages CPF monies.”
He added that “it is inconceivable that GIC does not know whether or not it manages CPF funds” given that “the Plaintiff, the two deputy prime ministers and the ministers for Trade & Industry and Education sit on the board of directors of GIC.”
It was only later on that the GIC “admit to managing CPF monies”, Mr Ngerng says, after he had published his allegedly offensive article.
“Likewise, the Government has only after I published the article stated that Temasek Holdings does not manage CPF monies. This was quite different from GIC’s initial public statement that CPF monies flow into reserves which could be managed by either GIC, MAS or Temasek Holdings and that they were not told explicitly whether they were managing CPF monies or not.”
Mr Ngerng’s affidavit then pointed to three occasions in the past where he said “the Government and the GIC had denied that the GIC manages CPF monies.”
In his affidavit, Mr Ngerng explains:
“In 2007, to a question asked by the Worker’s Party Secretary-General Low Thia Kiang, ‘I would like to seek clarifications from the Minister. Does the Government Investment Corporation (GIC) use money derived from CPF to invest?’, then-Manpower Minister Ng Eng Hen had denied that the GIC manages CPF monies and said, ‘Sir, The answer is no.’
“Also, in 2006, on at the GIC 25th Anniversary Dinner, then-Minister Mentor and GIC Chairman Lee Kuan Yew had said ‘there is no connection between GIC’s rate of return and the interest paid on CPF accounts.’
“And in 2001, at a press conference to mark GIC’s 20th anniversary, then-Senior Minister and GIC Chairman Lee Kuan Yew had said in an article in The Straits Times, headlined, ‘GIC does not use CPF funds: SM Lee’, ‘I want to clarity that there is no direct link between the GIC and the CPF.’”
Mr Ngerng says that these three instances showed that the Government had “misled Singaporeans.”
“However,” Mr Ngerng says, “after I wrote the Article, the Government and the GIC volte-faced on their position in June this year.”
Mr Ngerng then turned to the second meaning which he says was contrary to what Mr Lee’s lawyers ascribed to the blog article.
The point he was making in his article was namely that: The Government (through GIC and Temasek Holdings) retains and enriches itself with a large proportion of the investment gains made by GIC and Temasek Holdings when they invest CPF monies.
Mr Ngerng argues that, first, “the CPF was one of the largest retirement funds” in the world; and second, “that GIC and Temasek Holdings … were the 8th and 9th largest sovereign wealth funds in the world.”
At the time of the writing of his article, Mr Ngerng notes, “it was not made known to either the general public or myself at that time whether or not Temasek Holdings manages CPF monies.”
Mr Ngerng argues that despite the above, “according to the Asian Development Bank Institute, the Melbourne Mercer Global Pension Index 2013 and the OECD, Singaporeans had one of the least adequate retirement funds in the world.”
Mr Ngerng says “something was not adding up.”
“Why was it that GIC and Temasek Holdings were amongst the biggest sovereign wealth funds in the world and yet Singaporeans had one of the least adequate retirement funds in the world?” Mr Ngerng asked in his affidavit. “Especially so when GIC and Temasek Holdings (according to the GIC at that time) were managing CPF monies?” [sic]
Mr Ngerng’s affidavit then referred to remarks made by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, Tharman Shanmugaratnam, at a recent public forum, where Mr Ngerng had also attended.
Mr Ngerng argued that Mr Tharman’s answers to his questions about the management of the CPF funds by the Government, showed that there was a lack of transparency in the management of CPF funds, and that there were also contradictions in what the Government had claimed, and that this was “completely unacceptable and disingenuous, and puts the lives of the citizens of Singapore at risk.”
Mr Ngerng then explains:
“I therefore made the point that the average Singaporean suffers in that they do not get the full returns from the investment gains made by GIC and Temasek Holdings from managing their hard earned CPF monies. Instead, the Government (through GIC and Temasek Holdings) retains and enriches itself with a large proportion of the investment gains made by GIC and Temasek Holdings when they invest CPF monies. It is not the full amount of the investment gains from the investment of CPF monies which are returned to CPF account holders.”
Mr Ngerng says that “if there has been any assertion by me that certain entities are profiting from the people’s funds, such an assertion is against the Government, GIC and Temasek Holdings, as they do not return to Singaporeans the full amount of investment gains made from investing Singaporeans CPF monies.”
He added that “neither were they at the time I wrote the article transparent as to who was managing CPF monies.”
“There is absolutely no basis whatsoever to say that I have accused the Plaintiff of criminal misappropriation of Singaporeans’ CPF monies,” Mr Ngerng says. “I have never accused him of taking a cent of Singaporeans CPF monies and I have no intention to do so as well.
“It is only persons who are avid for scandal who would say I meant this in the article.”
Mr Ngerng is thus asking the court to allow him to fight Mr Lee’s lawsuit in open court, instead of granting Mr Lee the summary judgment he seeks, which would mean there would be no open contest of Mr Lee’s claims.
However, Mr Ngerng says that his apology to Mr Lee, and his statement that there is no basis to say that Mr Lee is guilty of “criminal misappropriation” of the CPF monies, still stands, “regardless of the Judgment reached by the Courts on the legal meaning of the words complained of by the Plaintiff.”
However, Mr Ngerng also says that “the article does not in law bear out the meaning which the Plaintiff solicitors claim it does.”
“These are legal matters for my lawyers to argue in Court and I will leave it to my lawyers to make the legal arguments and for the Court to decide on the legal meaning of the words,” Mr Ngerng adds.
A hearing has been scheduled in the High Court for Sept 18 for the court to decide if it would grant a summary judgment to Mr Lee.