Li Shengwu — Harvard economics professor and the nephew of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong — on Wed (22 Jan) revealed that he is withdrawing from the contempt of court proceedings instituted by the Attorney General Chambers (AGC) against him.
In a Facebook post on Wed, Mr Li said that the AGC had recently applied to strike out parts of his own defence affidavit “with the result that they will not be considered at the trial”.
He also alleged that the AGC had “demanded that these parts be sealed in the court record, so that the public cannot know what the removed parts contain”.
“This is not an isolated incident, but part of a broader pattern of unusual conduct by the AGC. For instance, when arguing jurisdiction in the court of appeals, the AGC argued that a new piece of legislation should be retroactively applied against me.
“The court saw it as unfair for the new legislation to apply retrospectively,” he noted.
Mr Li said that he will no longer “continue to participate in the proceedings against me”, as he “will not dignify the AGC’s conduct by my participation”.
While he said that he will “continue to be active on Facebook, and will continue to regard my friends-only Facebook posts as private”, he remarked that he had removed his cousin Li Hongyi from his Facebook friends list. Li Hongyi is the son of PM Lee.
In a 66-page judgement released last April, the Court of Appeal dismissed an appeal by Mr Li to contest the court order which enabled the AGC to serve papers on him in the United States for the alleged offence of contempt of court.
The judges ruled that the service out of the jurisdiction was properly effected on Mr Li because the Attorney General (AG)’s claim for the court to exercise its power to punish for contempt was perky a claim made under S7(1) of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act.
Mr Li noted that while the case will now proceed due to a ruling from the court that process service on Mr Li was effective, the AGC did not get new rules to be retroactively applied on his contempt of court case.
Although he was disappointed with the judgement, he wrote that the “AG will still need to prove beyond reasonable doubt” that his Facebook post scandalised the Republic’s judiciary.
His response likely referred to the submission made by AGC to the court for retroactive application of the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act (2016) in his case.
Mr Li’s lawyers argued that the procedural rule which gives the court power to serve papers on someone outside of Singapore, under the act, cannot be applied retroactively in this case, because the “legislature manifestly did not intend for the provision to apply retroactively”.
The judges had stated in their decision that Mr Li’s case is sui generis, or unique by its own.
If retroactive application of the act is allowed, then AGC may refer to the new law and only needs to prove that there is a “risk” that such public confidence will be undermined instead of “real risk”.
As set out in the 2015 case of Au Wai Pang v Attorney-General, the AG has to prove a real risk that the impugned statement has undermined or might undermine public confidence in the administration of justice in Singapore before one can be found guilty for contempt.
However, the issue that concerned him the most is the amount of state funds that have been spent on the case against him and his mother, Lee Suet Fern.
Mrs Lee was accused by the AGC of “possible professional misconduct” in preparing her father-in-law Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s final Will. AGC had lodged a complaint of 500 pages to Law Society about Mrs Lee.
“Surreal mess” since July 2017
In 15 July 2017, Mr Li wrote in a private Facebook post that is only accessible to his connections and said that “the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system”, which he noted referred to the constraints surrounding what the media is allowed to or able to report regarding the high-profile dispute of his paternal family.
He was referring to the family dispute surrounding the 38 Oxley Road home of Li’s late grandfather and Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Mr Lee Kuan Yew, in which his father Mr Lee Hsien Yang, his aunt Dr Lee Wei Ling, and Mr Lee Hsien Loong were involved.
After his post, a relatively unknown blog posted a screenshot of his private Facebook post, which was then made viral through the SMRT Feedback by The Vigilanteh Facebook page.
Following the shares, AGC issued a public statement to local media saying that it was looking into a Facebook post by Mr Li, in which he questioned the independence of Singapore’s courts.
On 21 July that year, AGC sent a warning letter to Mr Li claiming that he made “false and baseless allegations” about the Singapore judiciary’s purported lack of independence.
The warning letter also requested him to “purge the contempt” by deleting the post from his Facebook page and other platforms, and asked him to “issue and post prominently” on his Facebook page a written apology and undertaking drafted by the AGC.
By 4 August 2018, the AGC filed an application in the High Court to commence committal proceedings against him for contempt of court, which was permitted by Justice Kannan Ramesh.
In October, AGC then “ambushed” Mr Li with “court papers in public” whilst he was delivering a lecture in “Scott Kominers’ brilliant market design class” at Harvard University.
In Dec 2018, the law firm representing Mr Li noted that the court papers filed by the AGC exceeded 1,300 pages.
Following this, Mr Li decided to challenge the court order that enabled the AGC to serve papers on him in the United States.