A judge who ordered a U.S.-owned newspaper to pay record damages to Singapore's top three leaders said Wednesday the author was motivated by malice in alleging nepotism.
Judge Goh Joon Seng, who July 26 orally ruled against the International Herald Tribune, released an extensive written judgment Wednesday explaining why he ordered the newspaper to pay damages of $678,571. The fine was the highest Singapore has ever ordered a newspaper to pay.The Tribune, jointly owned by the New York Times and the Washington Post, and writer Philip Bowring were sued by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, and his son, Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
In an Aug. 2, 1994, article in the Tribune, Bowring said that the younger Lee owed his government position to his father, Singapore's former prime minister who still holds an important Cabinet post.
To accuse the two Lees of nepotism and corruption and to accuse the prime minister of abetting such practice "was an attack on the very core of their political credo," said Judge Goh of the Supreme Court.
"It would undermine their ability to govern," said Goh, who is no relation to the prime minister.
He said Bowring had often made snide attacks on Singapore and its leaders while he was editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review magazine between 1988 and 1992.
The judge said Bowring's apology to the plaintiffs was insincere because he did not retract what he had written but had tried to clarify his position.
He also criticized a second defendant - the Tribune's executive editor, John Vinocur - for publishing a critical article about Singapore's judiciary two months after the Bowring article.
In a separate case arising from the second article, the Tribune, its editors and the author were fined a total of $13,571 in January for contempt of court.
The rulings against the Tribune marked another chapter in a history of disagreements between Singapore's leaders and the foreign press. In the past, Singapore has restricted the circulation of some U.S.-owned publications for printing articles that were critical or factually incorrect.