Singapore’s leading opposition figure loses appeal

The Star online

SINGAPORE (AP) – Singapore’s leading opposition figure has lost an appeal to be discharged from bankruptcy, a court ruled Thursday, effectively disqualifying him as a candidate in the next general election.

The Court of Appeal’s judgment is the latest legal setback for Joshua ‘J.B.’ Jeyaretnam, 79, who for many years has been embroiled in a thicket of libel and defamation lawsuits, many brought by stalwarts of the long-ruling People’s Action Party, or PAP.

Under Singapore law bankrupt individuals are not allowed to stand for Parliament.

Jeyaretnam was declared bankrupt in January 2001 after missing a single payment from a 500,000 Singapore dollars (US$290,000; euro220,000) libel lawsuit filed by PAP members.

He still owes a portion of the court-awarded damages.

Earlier this year, Jeyaretnam twice tried and failed to get the city-state’s lower courts to set aside his bankruptcy.

The moves were opposed by many of his creditors, including former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who now holds the title of senior minister.

Jeyaretnam argued in those cases and his appeal that his creditors were opposing his discharge for political reasons, to keep him from running for elected office.

Thursday’s judgment – written by Justice Chao Hick Tin – said the appeal judges could not fault the earlier judge’s decision.

“There is no basis for us to overturn the decision of the court below. The judge has not erred,” said the judgment, a copy of which was faxed to The Associated Press.

The Court of Appeal agreed it was “premature” to discharge Jeyaretnam’s bankruptcy status, in part as his assets had not yet been fully determined.

In particular there remained a dispute over Jeyaretnam’s possible ownership of a property in neighboring Malaysia worth an estimated S$328,000 (US$190,000; euro145,000), the judgment said.

Singapore’s top PAP members have a long history of suing their political opponents for libel and defamation.

They argue that the lawsuits are the best way of protecting their reputations.

Jeyaretnam’s loss of the appeal, which was dismissed with legal costs, comes amid recurrent talk in Singapore that Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong could soon call snap elections.

Lee, who took the reins from Goh in August, is the elder son of modern Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew.

Lee the elder and Jeyaretnam are long-time political foes and regularly clashed in Parliament in the 1980s.

Jeyaretnam rocked Singapore’s staid political scene in 1981 by winning a hotly disputed by-election.

At that time, he was the only opposition member in Parliament. – AP

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About soci
Lived in Singapore for 6 wonderful years and has been blogging since 2003, under various names but always on Singaporean issues.

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