Jeyaretnam trial : Day 4


August 22, 1997

London Times:
QC blames leaks on Singapore leaders

FROM CHRIS LYDGATE IN SINGAPORE AND OUR FOREIGN STAFF

GEORGE CARMAN, QC, yesterday said Goh Chok Tong, the Prime Minister of Singapore, and Lee Kuan Yew, his predecessor, "shot themselves in the foot" by releasing accusations over which they are now seeking legal damages.

Mr Carman called for the High Court to dismiss the case. He said the two leaders were responsible for the publication of police reports accusing them and nine others of criminal conspiracy and brought whatever damage resulted down on themselves. "The real loss has been self-inflicted," he said.

He said that members of the ruling party appeared to be seeking extra penalties because of adverse press coverage of the trial of the veteran opposition politician J.B. "Ben" Jeyaretnam. Mr Carman said that Thomas Shields, QC, for the plaintiffs, had telephoned the previous evening to say he would be relying on newspaper reports of the trial to seek aggravated damages from Mr Jeyaretnam.

Mr Shields told the court yesterday that newspaper readers might receive the impression that, rather than Mr Jeyaretnam, it was in fact Singapore's democracy that was on trial, and that "behind the scenes, pulling all the strings, was the plaintiff himself".

Mr Carman's aggressive defence, including Tuesday's three-hour interrogation of Mr Goh, has generated international headlines, spurred on by his suggestion that Singapore's leaders used libel suits as a means of stifling their political opponents.

Mr Carman defended his tough cross-examination yesterday, insisting that he was "entitled to canvass these issues in court". Mr Jeyaretnam, 71, is facing eight libel suits filed by 11 leading members of the ruling People's Action Party, including Mr Goh and Mr Lee.

Mr Carman, in his closing argument, reminded the court that, during cross-examination, the Prime Minister testified that he was the one who had authorised the release of the police reports to the press, not Mr Jeyaretnam.

The plaintiffs, Mr Carman maintained, had "made a considered and conscious decision to publish the very reports which they claimed had damaged their reputation. That fact was unknown to the learned judge who awarded them $600,000 (380,000) in damages," Mr Carman said. "But it is not unknown to Your Honour."

Mr Carman argued that the decision "does render a claim for damages rather hollow". He also said that Mr Goh had been "economical with the truth".

Mr Shields presented a much less dramatic closing argument. Against the political backdrop of Singapore, he said, Mr Jeyaretnam's words were "incapable of innocent meaning". He will continue his closing argument today.