Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he was defamed and sought damages on Wednesday from an activist who questioned the leader in court for seven hours as part of a civil case.

Lee sued the defendant Roy Ngerng in May 2014 after the blogger and former hospital worker wrote a post online accusing him of misusing public funds. This is the first time a leader of Singapore has brought a defamation suit against an online critic.

Speaking on the witness stand, Lee told Ngerng “you have defamed me” and said Ngerng was “insincere” in his apologies, and only made the original libel worse by repeating the false allegations in a Youtube video later recorded by the defendant.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Photo: Wikicommons.

The blog post in question was published in May 2014. Ngerng created a chart mapping the relationships between Lee and various Singapore institutions, including the country’s monetary authority and the Central Provident Fund. The CPF is a savings scheme into which Singaporeans make monthly contributions that are saved for their retirement and other expenses.

Lawyers representing Lee argued the blog suggested that the Prime Minister had misappropriated cash from the state pension funds.

The High Court of Singapore ruled later that year that Ngerng’s blog was defamatory. The latest hearing was to determine how much money should be awarded to Lee, including aggravated damages.

A defamation suit filed to the High Court can impose a minimum value of SG$250,000 in damages (more than HK$1.4million).

Ngerng accepted the judge’s ruling that the original blog post was defamatory but tried to disprove the presence of malice.

The activist, who represented himself at the High Court, told Lee he had issued several letters of apology and asked the Prime Minister if he would give him a second chance.

Ngerng also said he was being politically persecuted for raising questions about the CPF. Lee dismissed this assertion, saying that Ngerng and other Singaporeans were free to discuss the issue.

Lee had earlier rejected an apology and dismissed as “derisory” a compensation offer of SG$5,000 (HK$28,650) from Ngerng.

The Prime Minister said Ngerng’s posts on the CPF prior to May were already close to being defamatory and that he only decided to sue the activist after he read the specific post in May and consulted his lawyers.

Lee told the court he “could not let it pass,” adding that he was “very indignant.”

Lee said he could have forgone seeking aggravated damages had Ngerng been sincere in his apologies and not repeated the allegations.

Vicky Wong

Vicky is a British-born Chinese journalist with three years of experience covering UK politics. She previously worked for PoliticsHome and has interned at Sky News and CNN International. She also co-produced and filmed a documentary about the Hong Kong protests for MSNBC, which won the grand student prize at the 2015 Human Rights Press Awards. She has a BA in Politics and International Relations from the University of Reading and moved to Hong Kong in 2014 to complete a journalism masters at the University of Hong Kong.