Singapore opposition figure declared bankrupt

LEGAL POLITICS: Chee Soon Juan said he was unable to pay damages to two former prime ministers and accused the court of acting in the government's electoral interests


Sat, Feb 11, 2006 - Page 5

One of Singapore's few opposition figures was declared bankrupt yesterday after he failed to pay damages to the city's founding father Lee Kuan Yew (李光耀) and another former prime minister.

"I have just been adjudicated a bankrupt ... The judge has adjudicated, so I'm legally a bankrupt right now," said Chee Soon Juan(徐順全), secretary-general of the Singapore Democratic Party, to reporters after emerging from a closed-door session at the High Court.

Chee earlier said he had not paid S$500,000 Singapore dollars (US$307,000) in damages to Goh Chok Tong (吳作棟) and Lee Kuan Yew, as ordered by the High Court.

"I certainly don't have 500,000 dollars," he said, adding it was unlikely that he would appeal the judgement.

Lawyers for Goh and Lee had sent separate letters to Chee on Feb. 28 last year demanding payment of the money, plus legal costs and expenses.

By law, bankrupt persons cannot run for public office.

But even if the ruling had not been handed down, Chee said he would still not be eligible to run in general elections widely expected this year because of previous fines incurred in his long-running battle with the ruling People's Action Party (PAP).

Chee questioned the timing of the High Court ruling against him, noting it came ahead of widely anticipated elections.

"I guess it's their usual ploy that before the elections ... they tend to make sure that the opposition is as hampered as it can be," he said.

He vowed to continue fighting for democratic rights.

"Whether I'm made a bankrupt or not, I will continue to do what I intend to do, that is, to fight for democracy in Singapore," Chee said.

"Elections are just one of the ways of doing political work in Singapore. In the past two, three years, I haven't just spent my time thinking about the elections," he said.

"I try to organize people, write, speak as much as possible within the international community," he said.

The High Court in January last year found Chee liable for damages as a result of remarks made about Goh and Lee during the election campaign in October 2001.

The cases involved accusations by Chee, which he later retracted, that the former prime ministers had lent about US$10 billion to then-Indonesian president Suharto at the height of the East Asian financial crisis in 1998.

Lee, Goh and other members of the PAP, which has ruled over Singapore since its independence in 1965, have a long history of taking crippling legal action against their political opponents and media critics.

Human rights groups have criticized the practice but the city-state's rulers argue they need to take legal action to protect their reputations.

Lee led Singapore to independence and ruled until 1990.

He then handed power to Goh, who stood down last year for Lee's son, Lee Hsien Loong.

Goh and the elder Lee remain in the Cabinet as chief advisers of the new prime minister.