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August 23, 2008

Singapore PM ups stakes in libel case
Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has raised the stakes in a libel suit against the Far Eastern Economic Review, now saying an article in the magazine implied he was corrupt, Reuters reported quoting court documents. The amendment this week by lawyers representing Lee adds a more serious charge to an earlier claim that FEER implied the prime minister was unfit for office because he had condoned corruption by his father, former premier Lee Kuan Yew.

The August 2006 story that sparked the lawsuit, entitled "Singapore's Martyr: Chee Soon Juan", criticised the government's handling of a pay-and-perks scandal at the country's largest charity the National Kidney Foundation. The charity's former CEO T.T. Durai has since been jailed.

"The article clearly asserted that like Durai, who abused defamation suits to silence his critics and conceal his corruption, Lee Hsien Loong has abused libel suits as a tool to conceal his corruption," the Lees' lawyer Davinder Singh argued in his written submissions to the court for the amendment.

The story written by FEER editor Hugo Restall, who is also being sued, had quoted opposition politician Chee attacking the Lees. The magazine is owned by Dow Jones & Co, in turn owned by media mogul Robert Murdoch's News Corp.

Lawyer Peter Low, representing Restall and the magazine, told Reuters on Friday that he was now amending his defence.

"It raises a serious question as to the genuineness of that pleading if, sometime later, (the plaintiff) applies to amend to allege an altogether different and much more serious meaning," Low said in submissions to the court against the amendment

The magazine has argued the article did not defame the prime minister and his father because it was based on facts and fair comment.

But lawyers for Lee Hsien Loong and his father have dismissed the defence statement by the Hong Kong-based magazine as "frivolous, vexatious, scandalous, and an abuse of the process of the court".

Singapore leaders have won damages in the past from foreign media groups when they report on local politics, including the Economist, the International Herald Tribune and Bloomberg.

The leaders in the Southeast Asian city-state say the lawsuits are necessary to protect their reputations.

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