Opposition leader calls hearing on premier's lawsuit "pathetic"

SingaporeĀ  -Ā  Singapore's most vocal opposition leader accused the High Court on Tuesday of making his cross-examination of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong "meaningless" by upholding objections to almost every question asked.

Lee and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew pressed for a second day for aggravated damages against Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan, his sister and executive member Chee Siok Chin, and the party itself.

Justice Belinda Ang granted the request of Lee's lawyer Davider Singh to limit the time for cross-examination of the prime minister, which started on Monday.

She also agreed to set two hours for the cross-examination of independence leader and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, wrapping up the proceedings on Tuesday instead of Wednesday.

Lee took the witness stand for more than an hour. Singh objected to one question after another from Chee, who was representing himself, continually on the grounds of irrelevance. The objections were upheld.

"You have chopped off our legs and lopped off our arms," Chee Siok Chin said to Ang. "Do you want our heads next?"

The Lees won the defamation suit against the SDP and the Chees in 2006 stemming from the SDP newsletter, The New Democrat, published before the general election that year. It contained articles on a scandal at the National Kidney Foundation and drew parallels between how the charity and government were run.

The father and son sued over remarks which alleged they were corrupt and covered up wrongdoings at the foundation.

Not only were questions touching on the scandal ruled irrelevent, but others on Government Investment Corporation funds, Lee's salary and his awareness of the plights of the elderly poor and other conditions in the affluent city-state.

"Lee has said he takes great pride in his integrity," Chee told Ang in explaining a question. "It must be relevant."

"Move on," she responded.

Lee did acknowledge that he had said that Chee harbored hatred toward him. When Chee asked how Lee knew him, the prime minister said "not as a personal friend" but from his record as a public figure.

"I do not hate you," said Chee. "You are not worth the time and the effort."

The case marks the first time any leader of the ruling People's Action Party has been cross-examined by a political opponent in open court.

The party holds all but two seats in the 84-member parliament and has dominated the political scene since independence from Malaysia in 1965.

If the SDP is unable to pay up, the 28-year-old party faces the prospect of dissolution.

Chee Soon Juan was declared bankrupt following a defamation award of 500,000 Singapore dollars (373,000 US dollars) in February 2006 to Lee Kuan Yew and another former prime minister, Goh Chok Tong. He is barred from running for parliament until 2011.

His sister was declared bankrupt for failing to pay costs related to a protest last year.

Activists and critics including Amnesty International say Singapore's leaders use defamation lawsuits to cripple opposition politicians.

The government maintains such legal action is necessary to safeguard the leaders' reputations. (dpa)


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