Govt agen­cies ini­ti­ate ac­tion over ar­ti­cle link­ing PM Lee to 1MDB

Po­lice re­port filed against author; news site re­jects or­der to drop ar­ti­cle

The Straits Times - - TOPOF THE NEWS - Roys­ton Sim Deputy News Ed­i­tor (Pol­i­tics)

The al­le­ga­tions made in an on­line ar­ti­cle against Prime Min­is­ter Lee Hsien Loong and the Gov­ern­ment in re­la­tion to the 1Malaysia Devel­op­ment Ber­had (1MDB) scan­dal are “ab­surd”, Law and Home Af­fairs Min­is­ter K. Shan­mugam has said.

And the po­lice will in­ves­ti­gate and take ac­tion against all in­volved, he said yes­ter­day.

The Mone­tary Au­thor­ity of Sin­ga­pore (MAS) filed a po­lice re­port against the author of a Nov 5 States Times Re­view (STR) ar­ti­cle, which al­leged Malaysia had signed sev­eral un­fair agree­ments with Sin­ga­pore in ex­change for Sin­ga­pore banks’ as­sis­tance in laun­der­ing 1MDB funds.

MAS said the ar­ti­cle, “Lee Hsien Loong be­comes 1MDB’s key in­ves­ti­ga­tion tar­get”, made false and ma­li­cious state­ments and im­pugned its in­tegrity as a fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tor.

Sep­a­rately, the In­fo­comm Me­dia Devel­op­ment Au­thor­ity (IMDA) said the ar­ti­cle had un­der­mined pub­lic con­fi­dence in the Gov­ern­ment’s in­tegrity, and is con­sid­ered pro­hib­ited con­tent un­der the In­ter­net Code of Prac­tice.

IMDA yes­ter­day is­sued a no­tice to STR to take down the ar­ti­cle by 5pm, which the web­site failed to do.

In a Face­book post yes­ter­day, STR said it re­jected the or­der.

It added that PM Lee or IMDA “is wel­comed (sic) to file a case with the Aus­tralian au­thor­i­ties”.

An IMDA spokesman said the au­thor­ity has di­rected In­ter­net ser­vice providers to re­strict ac­cess to the site. It has also asked Face­book to deny ac­cess to the said post.

In a post last night, STR said its web­site has been blocked, and will thus “cease and de­sist”. It added that its Face­book page will shut down in two weeks’ time, but the web­site will re­main un­til the next gen­eral elec­tion is over.

The Law Min­istry sub­se­quently noted in a state­ment that Face­book had de­clined to take down the STR post that is “clearly false, defam­a­tory and at­tacks Sin­ga­pore us­ing false­hoods”.

“This shows why we need leg­is­la­tion to pro­tect us from de­lib­er­ate on­line false­hoods,” it said. “Face­book can­not be re­lied upon to fil­ter false­hoods or pro­tect Sin­ga­pore from a false in­for­ma­tion cam­paign.”

Mr Shan­mugam had ear­lier com­mented about the ar­ti­cle at the Trea­sury build­ing, say­ing: “When you make al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion, money laun­der­ing, against the Prime Min­is­ter, Gov­ern­ment of Sin­ga­pore, that we are com­plicit in this and so on, of course we take this very se­ri­ously.”

The po­lice will take ac­tion against all in­volved based on in­ves­ti­ga­tions and ad­vice from the At­tor­ney-Gen­eral’s Cham­bers, he added.

Mr Shan­mugam noted that the STR ar­ti­cle was later picked up by Malaysian main­stream me­dia.

Malaysian web­site The Cov­er­age pub­lished a sim­i­lar ar­ti­cle on Nov 7 link­ing PM Lee to the 1MDB scan­dal. China Press then picked up the piece.

Asked if a for­eign agency could be in­volved in spread­ing the fake al­le­ga­tions, Mr Shan­mugam said he did not want to spec­u­late.

How­ever, he noted that ba­sic checks would have shown the al­le­ga­tions in the STR ar­ti­cle were false. That was ob­vi­ously not done when the Malaysian main­stream me­dia picked up the ar­ti­cle, he said.

“So the nat­u­ral ques­tion is, why did they pub­lish th­ese false­hoods, prob­a­bly know­ing that there is no ba­sis? It is ob­vi­ous also to any­one who pub­lishes them that the al­le­ga­tions will seek to dam­age the Prime Min­is­ter and seek to dam­age Sin­ga­pore. And yet they were pub­lished.

“The modus: It ap­pears in ob­scure sites and then gets picked up by main­stream me­dia to make it look real. That modus has been prac­tised in other places. The Se­lect Com­mit­tee (on De­lib­er­ate On­line False­hoods) has set out in­stances where this is done else­where. So it is very cu­ri­ous,” Mr Shan­mugam said.

He noted that the is­sue is not unique to Sin­ga­pore, as tech­nol­ogy has made the spread of false­hoods pos­si­ble all over the world.

On the claims that the STR ar­ti­cle made about the Kuala Lumpur-Sin­ga­pore High-Speed Rail (HSR) and wa­ter deal, Mr Shan­mugam said Malaysia has pre­vi­ously ar­gued that the HSR agree­ment favours Sin­ga­pore, and the price of wa­ter sold to Sin­ga­pore is too low.

“Th­ese have been made pub­licly, and we have an­swered them. This ar­ti­cle re­peats those points, and adds a nasty, ma­li­cious twist,” he said.

“It brings in 1MDB, it brings in (for­mer Malaysian prime min­is­ter Na­jib Razak). And says that our Prime Min­is­ter and Sin­ga­pore Gov­ern­ment were cor­rupt, and com­plicit in money laun­der­ing on 1MDB. And that is why Sin­ga­pore got favourable deals. Ab­surd al­le­ga­tions.”

Mr Shan­mugam also de­bunked the ar­ti­cle’s al­le­ga­tions that Sin­ga­pore was re­luc­tant to in­ves­ti­gate the 1MDB scan­dal. He noted that the Repub­lic was the first ju­ris­dic­tion to do so, against the fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions and in­di­vid­u­als in­volved.

The two-year in­ves­ti­ga­tion by MAS of both for­eign and lo­cal banks was the most ex­ten­sive su­per­vi­sory re­view it has ever taken, he said, adding that MAS has shut down two banks and im­posed fines of around $29.1 mil­lion on eight other banks, among other ac­tions.

Mr Shan­mugam also noted that Sin­ga­pore is the first, and only coun­try to date, of at least 10 ju­ris­dic­tions in­volved to se­cure con­vic­tions of in­di­vid­u­als who fa­cil­i­tated the money laun­der­ing. In­ves­ti­ga­tions are con­tin­u­ing into other sus­pects in Sin­ga­pore. The Repub­lic has been pro­vid­ing the Malaysian au­thor­i­ties with in­for­ma­tion on 1MDB since 2015, which Malaysia has ac­knowl­edged, he added.

The Sarawak Re­port had on Thurs­day dis­tanced it­self from The Cov­er­age ar­ti­cle. It wrote: “(The ar­ti­cle) claims the ed­i­tor of SR gave an un­spec­i­fied ‘in­ter­view to the Malaysian me­dia’ declar­ing that ‘Sin­ga­pore’ is the next tar­get of an un­spec­i­fied ‘1MDB in­ves­ti­ga­tion’. SR has not given any such in­ter­view and has not writ­ten on this sub­ject.”

Sin­ga­pore’s High Com­mis­sion in Malaysia had de­scribed that same ar­ti­cle on the web­site of The Cov­er­age as fake news and li­bel­lous a day ear­lier.

ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

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