PM Lee seeks damages from writer The Online Citizen for libel, defendant fails to appear
SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong seeks unspecified libel damages from a writer for The Online Citizen (TOC) for an article that repeats allegations made against him by his siblings.
TOC writer Rubaashini Shunmuganathan, who had been served with court documents consistently since December 2019, did not appear at the brief damages assessment hearing on Monday (May 31) over Zoom.
Mr Lee’s attorney, Senior Counsel Davinder Singh, told the court that a representative had visited Ms Rubaashini’s address in Selangor, Malaysia. A man claiming to be her brother said she has not lived there since the start of this year.
Ms Rubaashini did not appear for the trial and was found liable for defamation on December 31, 2019. The defamation was contained in an article she wrote for the TOC website on August 15, 2019, titled: ” PM Lee’s Wife, Ho Ching bizarrely shares an article on severing ties with family members.
In the article, Ms. Rubaashini referred to the post from Ms. Ho, Mr. Lee’s wife. Mdm Ho shared an article titled “Here’s Why It’s Sometimes Okay To Cut Ties With Toxic Family Members”.
Ms. Rubaashini wrote about a “Lee family feud” between Mr. Lee and his siblings, Mr. Lee Hsien Yang and Dr. Lee Wei Ling, about the family home at 38 Oxley Road.
In the article, she repeated Dr Lee’s claims that the Prime Minister had “misled” the late Lee Kuan Yew into believing that the Oxley Road property had been published in the Singapore Government Gazette, which led him to change his will to entrust the house to Mr. Lee Hsien Loong.
Ms. Rubaashini also cited an allegation by the two siblings that the prime minister wanted to keep the house “to inherit the credibility (of Lee Kuan Yew)”.
Mr Lee, who appeared briefly in court via Zoom on Monday, said in his affidavit that Ms Rubaashini had taken no action to verify whether the allegations were true.
“She wrote the article within hours, regardless of whether the allegations in the offending comments were true or false,” he said. “These questions show that the accused was completely reckless and malicious.”
READ: I would have deleted the article if Prime Minister Lee hadn’t made public letter of formal notice, table of contents editor said in libel lawsuit
According to court documents, Table of Contents Editor Terry Xu reached out to Ms Rubaashini on the Slack workplace messaging app on August 15, 2019, to share Mdm Ho’s Facebook post. Xu was also sued by Mr. Lee for publishing the offending article.
In his message to Ms. Rubaashini, Mr. Xu said he “needed some creative writing,” and she responded a few hours later with a draft of the article. He responded by saying “very good! No changes needed” before the article was subsequently published.
Mr Lee said the article contained “sensational allegations” against him which were likely “to attract a lot of attention and go viral on the Internet and on social networking sites.”
“The article was clearly designed to attract the maximum number of Singaporeans because of its attacks on me and my honesty and integrity,” he said.
Her attorneys for Davinder Singh Chambers sent a letter to Ms Rubaashini in October 2019 asking her to take immediate action to remove the article from the website and issue an apology and pledge.
Ms Rubaashini ignored the letter, as well as the emails, a Facebook post and a LinkedIn message sent to her by Mr Lee’s attorneys.
A Malaysian law firm process server served the writ of summons, statement of claim and other documents on Ms Rubaashini in person on December 4, 2019, but she did not appear for prosecution .
READ: Singapore in ‘very sad state’ if I depend on living in Oxley Road house to ‘give off a magical aura’: PM Lee on libel suit
READ: Table of contents libel lawsuit: Sibling animosity evident, but PM Lee hopes ‘things can be fixed’ one day
WHO IS RUBAASHINI SHUNMUGANATHAN?
According to Mr. Timothy Lin, director of Davinder Singh Chambers, he believes Ms. Rubaashini is using a LinkedIn account which indicates that she is a writer and assistant editor at TOC.
She continues to write for TOC, the court said. Her LinkedIn profile page states that she is from Selangor, Malaysia and attended Cardiff University from 2014 to 2015, Mr Lin said.
Mr Lee asked the court to order Ms Rubaashini to pay unspecified damages, including aggravated damages and costs.
Mr Singh asked for three weeks to prepare submissions on what arguments Ms Rubaashini might make, and what her answers would be, according to her “duty”. The judge adjourned the case for bids to be prepared and will rule on the amount of damages Ms. Rubaashini will have to pay at a later date.
Mr. Xu, who is also the subject of a libel suit from Mr. Lee, attended the hearing on Monday morning. Judge Audrey Lim, who is also presiding over Ms Rubaashini’s case, reserved judgment for Mr Xu’s case in February this year.