Singapore: Civil defamation ruling against blogger Leong Sze Hian further shrinks the space for freedom of expression online

 

The decision by the High Court of Singapore ordering blogger Leong Sze Hian to pay Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong SG$133,000 (approx. USD$98,765) in a defamation suit over the sharing of an article on Facebook continues the country’s troubling trend of restricting online freedom of expression, the ICJ said today.

On 24 March 2021, the High Court ordered Leong to pay SG$100,000 (approx. USD$74,297) in general damages and SG$33,000 (approx. USD$24,518) in aggravated damages.

“The judgment imposes an exorbitant fine on Leong for merely sharing a link on Facebook, effectively punishing him for exercising his right to free expression online”.

“International human rights law and standards are clear that individuals must not be sanctioned with defamation actions over comments about public figures, save in very exceptional circumstances where the person did so maliciously and knowing that the information expressed was factually false.”

– Ian Seiderman, the ICJ’s Legal and Policy Director.

On 7 November 2018, Leong shared a Facebook post containing a link to an article by Malaysian website The Coverage, without any accompanying caption. The article alleged that Prime Minister Lee helped former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak launder money in relation to the Malaysian state fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad.

The High Court found Leong liable for defaming the Prime Minister as he had allegedly shared the link with “reckless disregard of whether the article was true or not”, which when seen cumulatively with his refusal to apologize for the defamatory words, allowed for the requirement of malice to “be made out on the facts”.

The ICJ said that the overly burdensome standard applied by the Court based on the evidence was likely to chill people from expressing themselves on matters concerning matters of public importance and involving public officials.

“The decision follows a disturbing trend of the Singaporean government abusing defamation proceedings to curtail freedom of expression in the digital space,” said Seiderman.

The ICJ calls on Singapore’s legislators to act to amend laws currently used to impose improper restrictions on online freedom of expression, including the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act (POFMA), Administration of Justice (Protection) Act (AJPA) and criminal defamation provisions under its Penal Code.

Background

In a December 2019 report, Dictating the Internet: Curtailing Free Expression, Opinion and Information Online in Southeast Asia , the ICJ found that in Singapore, provisions in POFMA, AJPA and other contempt of court provisions, civil and criminal defamation laws have been abused to unduly restrict freedom of expression and information online.

In the report, the ICJ highlighted the similar case of blogger Roy Ngerng, who was ordered to pay $150,000 in damages in December 2015 for alleged defamation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for a blog post questioning the government’s management of the Central Provident Fund. In June 2015, the ICJ submitted a Legal Opinion in Ngerng’s case, expressing concern that “a decision awarding a disproportionately high amount of damages to the plaintiff… would cast a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Singapore.”

Mohit Agarwal takes the helm as CEO of VoloFin Corp, a blockchain driven digital SME lender

Singapore headquartered Fintech platform VoloFin said that Mohit Agarwal will join the company as Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer. VoloFin is a Block Chain powered digital platform providing invoice financing and is amongst the first to leverage blockchain for MSME and SME lending.

The gap in SME lending is largely due to low-risk appetite, high acquisition & compliance cost of traditional lenders. VoloFin skillfully solves this gap while delivering exceptional value to all the stakeholders.

VoloFin’s proprietary technology allows SME’s get instant in-principle approval and price indications. A specially designed simple and minimalistic user interface allows a fully digital, easy, and quick onboarding journey for a comprehensive user experience, keeping the complete UI/UX design set on the cutting edge.

Prior to this, Mohit was CEO – JLT Independent and Managing Director at Marsh for over 13 years. He played a vital role in the growth story of Marsh for last several years and was instrumental in successful merger of JLT Independent with Marsh in India. Sanjay Kedia, CEO, Marsh India said, “Our association with Mohit was an excellent journey and we wish Mohit the very best in his journey forward.”

“With many SME clients seeking financial solutions and support, there has never been a more important time for technology driven lending. I am passionate about VoloFin’s purpose, strategy, and the part it will play to help clients, investors, employees, and communities leverage technology for good. I am very much looking forward to working with the team,” Mohit said.

“We are excited to have Mohit join VoloFin and are confident his leadership will take the platform to new heights. It’s a privilege to get back as a team again with a new purpose of serving SME’s globally, innovating and redefining technology led lending” said Anand Tiwari & Roshan Shah, Co-Founders, VoloFin.

Reasons Why Transfer Pricing Documentation in Singapore is Important

Guidance on Transfer Pricing Documentation

The routine Transfer Pricing Documentation (‘TPD’) compliance required to be done at the end of the financial year is now taking center stage across jurisdictions. A complete TPD would include a description of supply chain, business models & strategies, value drivers of profit, industry analysis, description of intangibles assets and the related functions, financing arrangements, restructurings within the group and rationale for the same, assumptions behind the rejig of supply chains, commercial factors considered while taking decisions regarding shifting of functions and risks, benchmarking analysis and economic adjustments. This information is of paramount importance to support the arm’s length pricing in respect of related party transactions.

The Holy Trio as per Action Plan 13 of Base Erosion and Profit Shifting project
In the year 2013, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (‘OECD’) and the G20 countries had developed a 15-point Action Plan to address Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (‘BEPS Project’). On 5th October 2015, the final package of the Actions to combat Base Erosion and Profit Shifting was released by the OECD.

One of the Action (Action – 13) pertains to Transfer Pricing Documentation wherein a three-tiered documentation structure was introduced as follows:

Master File
Master File provides an overview of the group business, including the nature of global business operations, overall transfer pricing policies, and global allocation of income and economic activity in order to assist tax administrations in evaluating the presence of significant transfer pricing risk.

Local File
Local File provides detailed transactional documentation specific to each country, identifying related party transactions and the arm’s length analysis. The information required in the local file supplements the master file and helps to meet the objective of assuring that the taxpayer has complied with the arm’s length principle in its material transfer pricing positions affecting a specific jurisdiction.

Country-by-Country Report
Country-by-Country Report provides aggregate tax jurisdiction-wide information relating to the global allocation of the income, the taxes paid, and certain indicators of the location of economic activity among tax jurisdictions in which the group operates.

Singapore is part of the Inclusive Framework
Singapore is part of the Inclusive Framework (‘IF’) for the global implementation of the BEPS Project. The inclusive framework was proposed by OECD and endorsed by G20 in February 2016. By being part of the IF, Singapore works with other participating jurisdictions to ensure the consistent implementation of measures under the BEPS Project. Singapore supports the key principle underlying the BEPS Project, i.e. the profits should be taxed where the real economic activities generating the profits are performed and where value is created.

Singapore is committed to implementing the four minimum standards under the BEPS Project, one of them being Transfer Pricing Documentation.

Read more about the importance of Transfer Pricing Documentation in Singapore at InCorp Global.

Information on Transfer Pricing in Singapore

Transfer pricing refers to the determination of prices at which goods, services and intangible properties are transacted between related parties. When unrelated parties deal with each other, independent market forces shape the commercial pricing of such transactions. However, in transactions involving related parties, their commercial and financial relations may lead to the setting of prices that deviate from independent commercial prices. This results in distortion of the profits derived by each related entity to the transactions as well as in the tax liabilities of each.

The distorting effects of non-arm’s length transfer pricing is of greater concern to tax authorities where related parties engaged in the transactions are located in different tax jurisdictions. This is because the varying taxation levels in different tax jurisdictions may lead to entities concerned not paying their fair share of tax in one or more jurisdictions, and the related entities as a group enjoying a tax advantage.

Increasingly, tax authorities worldwide are stepping up their audit efforts to verify that transfer pricing of cross-border related party transactions comply with the arm’s length principle. Where related party transactions are found not to have complied with the arm’s length principle and where the profits and tax liabilities of the related parties have been reduced, adjustments to the profits and tax liabilities would be made by tax authorities. Such unilateral adjustments increase the total taxable profits arising from the related parties’ transactions and hence result in double taxation.

This is an overview of transfer pricing mechanisms, providing guidelines to follow arm’s length principle and transfer pricing documentation to be maintained for the purpose of audits.

Get a copy of the Transfer Pricing in Singapore Guide at Rikvin.com.