By Fayen Wong
SINGAPORE, Feb 9 (Reuters) - A prominent Singaporean opposition leader said on Thursday that former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong had served a bankruptcy petition on him for failing to make libel payments.
Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, lost a three-year legal fight against defamation suits brought by Lee and Goh in January 2005, and was ordered to pay S$500,000 ($306,200) in damages for a case dating back to the 2001 parliamentary elections.
"I haven't been able to pay so they have served the bankruptcy petition. There is not much I can do now except to defend myself in court," Chee told Reuters.
Chee, a free speech proponent, has already lost his right to contest the next general election after being fined for speaking in public without a permit.
A High Court official confirmed that a bankruptcy petition was filed on Chee on Jan. 5 and that the High Court would hear the petition on Friday. Davinder Singh of law firm Drew & Napier, who represents Lee and Goh, declined to comment. He is also a PAP member of parliament.
Almost all Singapore's best-known opposition figures have faced legal action at some time by prominent members of the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).
Opposition and critics such as rights group Amnesty International say that defamation lawsuits brought by Singapore leaders are designed to cripple the opposition. But Singapore's leaders say it is necessary to safeguard their reputations.
Chee, a former university lecturer, defended himself during the trial last year as he said he was unable to get a Singapore law firm to represent him. The Singapore court rejected his requests to have foreign lawyers defending him.
Chee was found guilty in August 2002 of defaming Lee and Goh during the run-up to the 2001 election, by questioning their use of public funds.
Known for his strong criticism of the government, Chee has had several clashes with the ruling party. In 1997, he was ordered to pay S$315,000 to PAP member S. Vasoo and two other parties after Chee said that his sacking from the university was politically motivated.
The ruling PAP -- now led by Lee Kuan Yew's son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong -- has dominated 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. Chee's party has no seats.
Chee said it is likely that he would be made a bankrupt but that he would continue to push for democratic rights.
"I don't have to stand as a candidate to bring about democracy. I can always help others," he said.