Singapore PM’s nephew to skip court contempt proceedings

SINGAPORE, 5 Aug 2017: 

Li Shengwu – the nephew of Singapore’s prime minister, who will face contempt of court proceedings for comments he made suggesting the city-state’s courts were not independent – today said he would not be returning to Singapore.

The office of Singapore’s attorney general yesterday said it will seek to begin contempt of court proceedings against Li, a US-based academic, over Facebook posts he made on July 15.

The legal move is the latest twist in a family feud over the fate of late Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew’s house that gripped the nation last month.

In his post, Li, nephew of prime minister Lee Hsien Loong and a son of Lee’s brother, Lee Hsien Yang, described the Singapore government as “litigious” and the courts as “pliant”.

Li, 32, is currently a junior fellow at Harvard University and said he expected to commence an assistant professor position with the university in the fall of 2018.

He said he would seek to defend himself through legal representation in Singapore but would not be returning to the country.

“I have no intention of going back to Singapore. I have a happy life and a fulfilling job in the US,” he said in an interview.

In a statement yesterday, the attorney general’s chambers said it had previously instructed Li to remove the post and issue a letter of apology acknowledging that his comments about the judiciary were baseless.

It said Li had failed to meet those requirements by the stipulated deadline of 0900 GMT Friday, which had been pushed back from July 28 at Li’s request.

“As Mr Li has failed to purge the contempt and to apologise by the extended deadline, an application for leave to commence committal proceedings for contempt against him will today be filed in the High Court,” the statement said.

Earlier, Li said on Facebook he had amended his original July 15 post to clarify any misunderstandings. However, he said he did not believe the post was in contempt of court.

Li’s July 15 post was shared on a privacy setting that allows content to only be viewed by his Facebook friends.

He said the intent of that post was to convey the “international media were restricted in their ability to report” on a recent feud between PM Lee and his siblings “due to the litigious nature” of the government.

“It is not my intent to attack the Singapore judiciary or to undermine public confidence in the administration of justice.”

The public spat between the Lee siblings, children of Lee Kuan Yew, flared in June over the future of the family home and raised questions about governance in the city-state.

Lee Hsien Yang and sister Lee Wei Ling accused their elder brother of abusing his powers, prompting the PM to call an extraordinary special sitting of parliament in July to “clear the air” over an issue that some people say has tarnished Singapore’s image.

Separately, Singapore yesterday said it had cancelled the permanent residence status of a professor at a prominent postgraduate school – whom it identified as a US citizen, and accused him of being an agent of influence for a foreign country.

The Ministry of Home Affairs said Huang Jing, a professor of US-China relations at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, “knowingly interacted with intelligence organisations and agents of the foreign country” with the aim of bringing about a change in the direction of Singapore‘s foreign policy.

The ruling, which also applied to Huang’s wife Shirley Yang Xiuping, means that if they leave Singapore, they will not be readmitted.

The ministry identified the couple as US citizens, but did not identify the country that Huang was alleged to have been working for.

A spokeswoman for the US State Department said it was aware of the Singapore announcement but declined further comment, citing privacy concerns.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper quoted Huang as denying the allegations.

“It’s nonsense to identify me as ‘an agent of influence’ for a foreign country,” he said. “And why didn’t they identify which foreign country they’re referring to? Is it the US or China?”

Huang said he would seek help from his lawyer and the US embassy in Singapore.

“My family and my home are all here. I have property in Singapore, too. How can they treat me like this? If they have evidence, they should take me to court,” said Huang, who was not given a deadline to leave the island state.

The home affairs ministry charged that Huang had used his position at the Lee Kwan Yew school “to deliberately and covertly advance the agenda of a foreign country at Singapore’s expense.”

“He did this in collaboration with foreign intelligence agents,” it added.

The ministry said Huang and his wife could appeal, but if unsuccessful, would have to leave Singapore within a grace period.

The university said it had suspended Huang without pay while it worked with the ministry on the matter.

“As these permits have been cancelled, we would not be able to continue with his employment,” it said in a statement, adding that it could not comment on the specifics of the case.

The ministry said Huang had engaged with prominent and influential Singaporeans, giving them what he claimed to be “privileged information” about the foreign country with which he was interacting.

Such information was passed to a senior member of the Lee Kuan Yew School, who conveyed it to the Singapore government, which declined to act on it, the ministry said.

Huang’s wife was aware of her husband’s actions and that he recruited others for his operations, it said.

Huang’s biography on the school’s website said he was previously a senior fellow at the John Thornton China Centre at the Brookings Institution and had advised exiled Tibetan leaders on China affairs.

He is author of the books Factionalism in Chinese Communist Politics and Crisis and Challenges in US-China Relations.

An opinion piece by Huang published in China’s Global Times this year titled US domestic woes have global implications said US president Donald Trump’s administration had eroded US power and soured relations with allies.

It also said Chinese president Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Forum and other multilateral initiatives demonstrated China’s sense of reason as an emerging major power.

– Reuters

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