6 Nov 2004

Singapore opposition leader loses appeal

Sat 6 November, 2004 06:57

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore's opposition leader, Chee Soon Juan, has lost a bid to protect himself from bankruptcy as the court dismissed his appeal to reconvene an earlier hearing scheduled to reassess libel damages he has to pay, the Straits Times reports.

In ruling against the application, the court said Chee, leader of Singapore's Democratic Party, had failed to provide valid reasons justifying his absence from court.

The failure of the appeal means Chee is likely to be bankrupted and would not be able to contest in the next general election to be held by 2007, should he be unable to pay the $500,000 (269,000 pounds) that Goh and Lee are seeking.

"The onus was on him to satisfy me that there were good reasons he truly couldn't come for the hearing," said Justice Kan Ting Chiu in his ruling.

"And I don't find him to have discharged his onus."

Chee, a controversial opposition figure who lost a defamation suit brought by Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew and former prime minister Goh Chok Tong, had failed to turn up at the Sept 6 hearing which was set to review damages sought by the two Singapore leaders.

Chee had said he missed the hearing because he was away on a fellowship in the United States from February 11 to September 14. But during cross-examination, Chee admitted that his fellowship was actually from March to July.

"We are dealing with somebody who has lost the ability to tell the truth. Everything is twisted, distorted, glossed over, misinterpreted," said Davinder Singh, a senior counsel acting for Goh and Lee.

The outspoken Chee was sued by Goh and Lee for calling into question their handling of an alleged $17 billion loan to former Indonesian president Suharto during the 2001 elections campaign.

The PAP, first under Lee Kuan Yew and now under his son, Lee Hsien Loong, has kept a lock on parliament since independence in 1965. It won 82 of 84 seats in November 2001 elections and has never lost more than four seats in any election.

Critics such as Amnesty International have charged that defamation lawsuits brought by Singapore leaders are designed to cripple the opposition and stifle democratic debate.

But Singapore leaders have rebutted and said such actions are necessary to safeguard their reputation.

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