Liang Hong legal saga:
Special to Singapore Window.
Related: Arrrest warrant for Mr Tang
VETERAN lawyer Tang Liang Hong, of the opposition Workers' Party, ran for parliament in January this year against the ruling People's Action Party, in power since 1959.
Within days eleven PAP members, including Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong sued the lawyer of 28 years experience after he called them "liars" for branding him "an anti-English education, anti-Christian Chinese chauvinist" out to sow racial discord in multi-racial Singapore.
A day before the elections (January 1), Mr Tang lodged a police report accusing Mr Lee and other members of the PAP of a "criminal conspiracy" against him by defaming him and inciting religious groups to cause harm to Mr Tang and his family. The police did not take any action.
One day after the elections (January 3), the defeated candidate who lost by a slim margin, fled Singapore alleging he had received death threats.
Lawyer Tang gave PAP its toughest challenge in the election campaign when he teamed up with lawyer and Workers' Party veteran, Mr Joshua B. Jeyaretnam, to run in Cheng San, a mixed neighbourhood of factories and low and middle income residents. Night after night during the campaign, the duo attracted several thousands of people who cheered their criticisms.
Mr Tang's increasing popularity in the winner take all, five seat constituency prompted Prime Minister Goh to announce that he was turning the Cheng San election into “a contest between me and him”.
The prime minister accused Mr Tang of being a Chinese chauvinist whose views threatened the racial harmony of Singapore. (Chinese comprise 77 per cent of the republic's population, Malays 15 per cent, Indians 6 per cent and Eurasians and others 2 per cent).
During the campaign, Mr Tang did not say anything that seemed to champion the cause of the Chinese majority. The PAP based their allegations particularly on a speech that Mr Tang made in August 1994 and views they claimed he held.
Lawyers Tang and Jeyaretnam gained 45 per cent of the popular vote in Cheng San. Overall, the PAP captured 81 out of the 83 seats in parliament.
A few months before the general elections, in mid-1996, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore launched an investigation into the tax affairs of Mr Tang. In late January in two early morning raids, the department seized tax documents from the lawyer's home and office.
Mr Tang's wife had her travel documents cancelled in January when she tried to cross the causeway into Malaysia to attend a Muslim Malay friend's Ramadan (fast breaking) dinner gathering. Until a few days ago she was unable to leave the republic - effectively a “prisoner” in Singapore.
[On June 3, the Singapore Immigration, said that Mrs Tang was free to travel and could apply to get back her passport. In a statement the immigration department said it was "advised" by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore that Mrs Tang had given the information she was "asked to furnish" in relation to the investigation into her husband's tax matters.]
On March 9, in an unusual "urgent" night sitting, the Singapore High Court struck out all the opposition politician's defences and entered judgements against him in all 13 suits leaving damages to be assessed in May.
A five day hearing from May 9 was held on the submission of damages by Senior Minister Lee and the other PAP leaders who sought record damages of S$12.9 million. The High Court reserved judgement.
On May 23, Mr Tang asked the High Court to have a prominent Queen's Counsel, Mr Charles Gray, admitted to represent him in appeals linked to the defamation suits.
Lawyer Tang appealed to set aside the Mareva Injunction, to discharge the Receiver and to disqualify Justice Lai Kew Chai from hearing his cases (the latter on the ground of Justice Lai's alleged conflict of interest). He was unsuccessful. Mr Tang was ordered to pay S$5000 per case as security for costs, amounting to S$65,000 for the 13 suits.
The opposition politician is also appealing against Justice Goh Joon Seng's decision to strike out his defences and to enter judgements. For this, Mr Tang was also ordered to pay S$5000 per case.
He further appealed against Justice Chao Hick Tin's award of S$8.08 million damages to Mr Lee and the other plaintiffs. Again, Mr Tang has to pay S$65,000 as security for costs.
So, the opposition politician’s costs for the three appeals amount to S$195,000.
When Mr Lee applied to the court to remove certain words in his own affidavit which made derogatory comments about the Malaysian state of Johor - words which caused a diplomatic row between Singapore and Malaysia - the court granted the Senior Minister's application.
The court also ordered that Mr Tang pay the former prime minister's costs in the application in the sum of S$5000. Justice Lai Kew Chai ordered Mr Tang to pay Mr Lee’s cost ruling that the opposition politician had abused the process of the court by releasing Mr Lee’s affidavit to the Malaysian press, thus drawing attention to the Senior Minister’s remarks without putting them in the “proper context”.
To date, total costs awarded against Mr Tang is S$200,000.
The veteran lawyer applied to the High court to consolidate all the 13 suits into one suit. The court refused his application. He also applied to the High court to allow him to use his own funds (frozen in Singapore). This was also refused.
Mr Tang decided not to appeal these two decisions. Had he proceeded with these appeals he would have additional costs of another S$130,000.
But there was more to come. At the conclusion of the investigations by the tax department Mr Tang was charged with 33 counts of evading tax on income totalling S$210,982.
On May 22, the Subordinate Court issued a warrant of arrest for Mr Tang.
A week later (May 29), the Singapore High Court awarded Mr Lee and other plaintiffs a record S$8.08 million damages.
The court agreed with Mr Lee's lawyer that Mr Tang "in his ferocious and venomous crusade to arouse hatred and anger against the plaintiffs (Mr Lee and the other PAP leaders), has disingenuously marginalised the legal issues and sensationalised the political dimension."
The legal saga continues.