Bankrupt opposition leader opts for jail

Other News Materials 4 June 2008 05:52 (UTC +04:00)

A bankrupt opposition leader and his sister opted for jail on Wednesday instead of appealing contempt rulings against them for accusing a High Court judge of bias, dpa reported.

Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) chief Chee Soon Juan, 46, was sentenced to 12 days in jail on Monday by Justice Belinda Ang for scandalizing the court and challenging its authority during hearings last week related to a defamation lawsuit against Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew.

Chee Siok Chin, 42, was sentenced to 10 days in jail.

The sentences are the stiffest ever meted out in Singapore for contempt by scandalizing the court.

Chee and his sister, who is also bankrupt, "are unable to file their Notices of Appeal because they cannot pay the 2,000 Singapore dollars required to file their appeals," said a statement on the SDP website.

They were to report to the court at noon on Wednesday to begin their sentences. The Chees informed the High Court earlier of their decisions in writing.

Ang initiated the contempt-of-court action after the Chees accused the judge of bias and having pre-judged the case. A frustrated Chee Siok Chin said justice in Singapore had been "raped" and "kicked."

The contempt charges resulted from their comments and behaviour during the three-day hearing, Ang said.

Chee "scandalized the court, adversely affected the administration of justice and impugned the dignity and the authority of the court," Ang noted in announcing the sentences on Monday.

The Lees won the defamation suit against the Chees and the SDP in 2006 arising from a party newsletter published before the general election that year. It contained articles on a scandal at the National Kidney Foundation and drew parallels between how the charity and government were run.

The Lees are pressing for aggravated damages.

During last week's hearing, Lee Kuan Yew said Chee was "a near psychopath," a liar and a cheat while under cross examination by the former university lecturer who was representing himself.

The case marked the first time any leader of the ruling People's Action Party has been questioned by a political opponent in open court.

The PAP holds all but two seats in the 84-member parliament and has dominated the political scene since independence from Malaysia in 1965.

If the SDP is unable to pay up, the 28-year-old party faces the prospect of dissolution.

Chee was declared bankrupt following a defamation award of 500,000 Singapore dollars (373,000 US dollars) in February 2006 to Lee Kuan Yew and another former prime minister, Goh Chok Tong. He is barred from running for parliament until 2011.

His sister was declared bankrupt for failing to pay costs related to a protest last year.

Critics say Singapore's leaders use defamation lawsuits to cripple the tiny opposition.

The government maintains that such legal action is necessary to safeguard the leaders' reputations.