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FILE PHOTO: Li Shengwu, nephew of Singapore's prime minister, who faces contempt of court proceedings in his homeland as he studies economics at Harvard University, is seen in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S. on August 12, 2017. REUTERS/Tim McLaughlin

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By Fathin Ungku and Tim McLaughlin

SINGAPORE/CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (Reuters) - A nephew of Singapore's prime minister said a contempt of court proceeding against him, stemming from comments he made about the country's legal system, was "meritless" and he had appointed a lawyer to represent him.

The Singapore attorney-general's office started court proceedings in August against Li Shengwu over a Facebook post in which he said the Singapore government is "very litigious and has a pliant court system."

Li, who is a grandson of the city state's founding leader Lee Kuan Yew, said at the weekend he had retained Singapore attorney Abraham Vergis, of the firm Providence Law Asia, to represent him.

"It's sad that the Singapore government continues to press these meritless charges against me," Li, a U.S.-based academic, told Reuters.

Vergis, a veteran litigation lawyer, appeared at the Singapore High Court on Monday in a closed-door conference on the case.

He said the case was likely to be a drawn out process and when asked how Li planned to proceed, Vergis told Reuters: "It is premature to be talking about that."

Lawyer Francis Ng, the senior state counsel from the attorney general's chambers, declined to comment.

Singapore parliament last year passed a bill that made it punishable by up to three years in prison or a fine of up to S$100,000 (56,001.22 pounds) for anyone who alleges the country's judiciary is bias.

Ng has previously described Li's Facebook post as "an egregious and baseless attack" on the Singapore legal system.

On Aug. 4, Li said he did not mean to attack the Singapore judiciary and he had amended the "private" post to avoid misunderstanding, though he hasn't disclosed what changes he made.

Li told Reuters in separate comments in an interview in August that he had left the country in July after friends expressed concerns he might be detained by the authorities.

In the interview, Li did not identify the friends or specify the information they had. Reuters has no independent evidence that Li faced any threats to his safety.

"In Singapore, it is possible that one can be detained and interrogated for some time without a lawyer," Li said at the time.

The case relates to a feud between Lee Kuan Yew's three children over the fate of Lee's house, which earlier this year gripped the nation not accustomed to such disputes erupting into public view.

Lee Hsien Yang and sister Lee Wei Ling accused their elder brother, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, of abusing power to try to save the house as a historic monument in defiance of their father's wishes.

The premier called a special sitting of parliament to "clear the air" over the issue and afterwards said the debate had failed to find any substantial evidence of abuse of power.

Lee Kuan Yew, who died in 2015 at the age of 91, had lived in the house for most of his life.

(Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Neil Fullick)

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