AGC investigates Li Shengwu’s online post; should AG Wong & DAG Nair recuse themselves?

AGC investigates Li Shengwu’s online post; should AG Wong & DAG Nair recuse themselves?
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The Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) says it is looking into an online post made by Li Shengwu, the son of Lee Hsien Yang.

According to the Straits Times, the “AGC said in a brief statement on Monday morning that it is aware of Mr Li’s post and is looking into the matter.”

The AGC did not seem to have specified which post it was referring to.

On Saturday, Mr Li had reportedly made a post in which he apparently cast aspersions on the “court system” in Singapore.

In his posting, Mr Li had linked an article by the Wall Street Journal, titled “Singapore, a model of orderly rule, is jolted by a bitter family feud”, on the recent public war of words between his father and his aunt, Lee Wei Ling, and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. The 3-week saga, a dispute over the fate of the house of their father, Lee Kuan Yew, had hogged the news as the siblings lashed out at each other.

Mr Li’s post was directed at those who have “been watching the latest political crisis in Singapore from a distance”.

“Keep in mind, of course, that the Singapore government is very litigious and has a pliant court system,” Mr Li’s posting said.

Mr Li could indeed run  afoul of the law here in Singapore with his posting, but he remains apparently defiant. On Monday, in response to news reports that the AGC was looking into his posting, Mr Li posted the following:

Ms Lee has also responded to the news reports:

Last year, the government introduced the Administration of Justice (Protection) Act to deal with instances of contempt of court.

Namely, there are 3 types of contempt: scandalising the courts, sub judice and disobedience.

Mr Li’s case would fall under the first one of scandalising the courts.

The law says:

The practice of hauling those accused of contempt to the court is not new, and include British journalist Alan Shakedrake who was found guilty and served 51/2 weeks in jail here in 2010. He had written a book on the death penalty here in Singapore which had criticised the judicial system which the authorities felt had gone beyond the pale.

In 2015, activist and writer Alex Au was also found guilty of contempt of court for an article he had written on his website. In it, he “implied that the Chief Justice was partial in relation to constitutional challenges mounted against Section 377A of the Penal Code.” (See here.)

Mr Li’s case would an interesting one to watch for several reasons, besides the fact that he is the grandson of Lee Kuan Yew, and nephew of the Prime Minister.

One of the issues here would be the roles of the Attorney General, Lucien Wong, and the deputy Attorney General, Hri Kumar Nair.

Mr Wong was the personal lawyer of PM Lee during the dispute he had with his siblings over the house. Mr Wong was later appointed AG by PM Lee earlier this year.

Mr Nair was a Member of Parliament of the People’s Action Party until the last election in 2015. He was appointed deputy AG in March this year.

In Singapore, the AG assumes both roles of being the legal adviser to the government (AG) and as Public Prosecutor, unlike in some other countries where the two roles are separate. (See here: “Politicians as AG – Indranee’s superifical comparison tells only half the story“.)

The AG in Singapore has discretion on whether to prosecute a case.

However, in certain cases where there might be a conflict of interests, he is expected to recuse himself.

Another interesting point to note about Mr Li’s incident is that his aunt, Lee Wei Ling, had spoken out against the Administration of Justice (Protection) Bill when it was being debated in Parliament last year.

She said, on her Facebook page then, that the new law “provides a framework for contempt of court punishment and sets a limit on fines and prison sentences which … can be very serious.”

She pointed to concerns among some that “this bill will gag public debate on issues that are important to Singaporeans.”

“The maximum penalty is a fine up to $20,000 and/or jail term up to 12 months,” Ms Lee said. “This is very serious penalties for someone who may just want to speak out against an unfair judge and/or an unfair government.”

“I am amazed that there has not been more vocal protest by more Singaporeans,” she said.

“This current government is not like previous PAP governments,” she said. “I urged all Singaporeans, and all MPs and NMPs to think through what has been proposed..”

Mr Li’s posting will once again raise questions about how the government would treat the siblings of Lee Kuan Yew, and his grandchildren, if they should get into trouble with the law.

In the recent dispute between PM Lee and his sister and brother, allegations of abuse of power, fraud, sedition and even perhaps extortion were levelled at each other and by others. However, none of these allegations were investigated by the authorities.

TODAY, April 2017

The Law Minister, K Shanmugam, and the Prime Minister himself, have reiterated in recent months that no one is above the law in Singapore.

“Whether you are a Minister, or an ordinary citizen; whether you are the Prime Minister, or the children of the founding Prime Minister – you are not above the law,” PM Lee told Parliament during the 2-day sitting of the House on the dispute. (See here.)

In April, Mr Shanmugam said the same – repeating that all were equal under the law, “whether he is a Minister, a Member of Parliament, a chief executive or a cleric”. He said that action will be taken “regardless of who you are”, if the person is found guilty of breaking the law.