Singapore police arrest lawyer set to defend PM's defamation suit

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore police on Friday arrested a lawyer for alleged criminal breach of trust, days before he was set to defend a client in a defamation case against the city-state's prime minister.

Police said the lawyer, Lim Tean, who leads a small opposition party that unsuccessfully contested an election this year, was also being investigated for stalking and had not complied with earlier notices to attend police interviews.

"The police had no choice but to arrest Mr Lim Tean in order to conduct the investigations," police said in a statement, adding that they rejected allegations by Lim that the arrest was politically motivated.

The prime minister's press secretary referred Reuters to the police statement and did not have further comment.

In a trial likely to be watched closely next week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is suing financial adviser Leong Sze Hian over a Facebook post in which he shared a story linking Lee to Malaysia's 1MBD state fund money-laundering scandal.

Lee's lawyers at the time said the allegation was "false and baseless" and Leong subsequently deleted the post.

Over hearings spanning three days, the prime minister is set to take the stand to give evidence and be cross-examined. Leong was set to be represented by Lim but it was not immediately clear how Lim's arrest might change that.

Human rights lawyer M Ravi, Lim's defence counsel, posted an image on Facebook of Lim being detained by police at his office and said Lim had protested against his arrest as "politically motivated". Ravi said Lim would "contest the allegations vigorously".

"The police reject his allegations that the investigations are politically motivated. Mr Lim Tean's alleged victims had filed police reports alleging serious offences by him against them, and the police have a duty to investigate the allegations," police said in their statement.

(Reporting by John Geddie; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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