Sunday, 9 April 2017

City Harvest Church leaders' appeal verdict: Kong Hee & Co still going to jail BUT Singapore High Court cuts jail terms




Kong Hee and 4 leaders surrender at State Courts to start jail terms




Six church leaders get reduced jail terms, Kong Hee gets 3.5 years
High Court's split 2-1 ruling on appeal extremely significant, say lawyers
By Selina Lum and Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 8 Apr 2017

In a courtroom packed with supporters and a few detractors, City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee sat expressionless when he was told he will serve 31/2 years in jail - the final twist in one of Singapore's longest-running criminal trials.

It was less than half of the original sentence he had been facing, but in a split 2-1 High Court decision on appeal, the bench majority decided to reduce the 52-year-old's criminal breach of trust (CBT) charge to a less serious one.

Five other current and former church leaders, who in 2012 were accused of misappropriating $50 million in church money to fund the Crossover Project in a failed bid to promote the pop music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun, and then to cover up their tracks, also saw their jail terms slashed - despite the prosecution's appeal for longer terms.

Deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44, had his 51/2 years in jail cut to three years and two months.

Former fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56, who originally got six years in jail, had it reduced to three years and four months. Former finance manager Serina Wee, 40, had her five-year jail term halved to 21/2 years.

The three-year sentence of former finance committee member John Lam, 49, was also halved. Former finance manager Sharon Tan, 41, will be jailed for seven months instead of 21 months.



"While the conviction being upheld is not what I have hoped for, I am grateful that the sentence has been reduced," Kong, whom the judges described as the "mastermind", said later.

Yesterday's ruling capped a case which has engrossed the public since 2010, when the authorities started probing the affairs of the City Harvest Church, seven years after a church member first made allegations that building funds were being misused.

The investigations cast a spotlight on Kong's prosperity gospel, which marries materialism with spiritualism, and the attempt by the church, which at its peak had 30,000 congregants, to reach out to the "unchurched" by turning Mandarin pop singer Ho into a star in America.

Ho starred in several racy videos, including China Wine, which featured Wyclef Jean and was widely viewed and criticised on YouTube.

Shanmugam: "The matter is not over yet."



During a marathon 142-day trial, which started in 2013, it was revealed how the six had channelled $24 million from CHC's building fund into sham bonds in music production company Xtron and glass-maker Firna. The money was in fact used to fund the Crossover Project.

Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the sham bond investments.


The prosecution, believing that the 2015 jail terms which ranged from 21 months to eight years were inadequate, filed appeals. All six accused also appealed against their conviction and sentence.

Kong's role as the "spiritual leader of the other appellants", whom he led and mentored, ought to be reflected in the sentences imposed, said the court yesterday, explaining why he received the longest jail term. But "none of the appellants, particularly Eng Han, Ye Peng, John Lam, Serina and Sharon, could be said to have gained anything from what they did other than pursuing the objectives of CHC. Their fault lies in adopting the wrong means", said Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin.



The dissenting judge, Justice Chan Seng Onn, however, said it was very clear Kong's wife had benefited directly and Kong indirectly from criminally misappropriated funds to fund her music career. Justice Woo Bih Li was the other judge who ruled on the appeal.

The ruling was described by lawyers as "extremely significant", given that the court departed from a four-decade-old legal position and reinterpreted Section 409 of the Penal Code, the provision governing the role of agents in CBT.





** Court of Appeal reserves judgment on interpretation of criminal breach of trust as agents

By Selina Lum, Law Correspondent, The Straits Times, 2 Aug 2017

A five-judge Court of Appeal yesterday reserved judgment on legal arguments raised by the prosecution that, if accepted, may mean longer jail terms for the six people, including City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee, convicted of misusing millions in church funds.

Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair argued that the six should be convicted of the more aggravated charge of criminal breach of trust (CBT) as agents under Section 409 of the Penal Code, rather than plain CBT under Section 406.

The issue hinges on the interpretation of Section 409, which provides for heavier punishment if a person misappropriates property entrusted to him "in the way of his business as a banker, a merchant, a factor, a broker, an attorney or an agent".

In April, the majority of a three-judge High Court panel cleared the six of CBT as agents and instead convicted them of plain CBT. As a result, their initial jail terms of between 21 months and eight years were reduced to between seven months and 3½ years.

The majority ruled that Section 409 applies only to a "professional agent" who offers his services as an agent or makes his living as an agent; and directors such as the CHC six cannot be considered "agents".

The ruling broke away from a legal position that had prevailed in Singapore for the past 40 years.

The prosecution then applied for a criminal reference, to seek a definitive ruling from the Court of Appeal.

It also sought to reinstate the original convictions of Kong, 52; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44; former fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56; former finance manager Serina Wee, 40; former finance committee member John Lam, 49; and former finance manager Sharon Tan, 41.



Yesterday, Mr Nair, who traced the legislative history of the provision back to 19th-century English laws, said he agreed that Section 409 covers professional agents, but "that's not the only category that fits the bill".

The senior counsel argued that "business" should be interpreted broadly so that it also covers agents who are entrusted with property in the regular course of their duties.

He argued that the thread running through banker, merchant, and so on, is not whether they are professional or offer services, but it is that these are individuals with a higher degree of trust placed in them by the public, and are therefore deserving of higher punishment.

"If that is the thread, then a director will fall nicely and squarely under that definition," he said.

Mr Nair said his interpretation promotes the legislative purpose of the provision, to punish more severely those holding positions of great trust and confidence.

He noted that the High Court majority accepted that their ruling was "intuitively unsatisfactory", resulting in directors being punished less severely than employees.

To this, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang quipped yesterday: "They are experienced judges, you know, more experienced than I am."

The defence aligned with one another in supporting the High Court's ruling.

Senior Counsel Andre Maniam, who acts for Wee, also delved into legislative history.

He argued that in England, the punishment for directors who commit CBT is lighter than that for clerks and servants.

"There's nothing in the historical record that supports the prosecution," he said.

The defence argued that if there was a lacuna, or a gap, in the law, it was up to Parliament to make the amendments.

Senior Counsel Kenneth Tan, representing Lam, said: "The prosecution is not just trying to force a square peg into a round hole, it's trying to force a square peg into a non-existent hole... This court doesn't design square holes."

The panel - which also comprises Judge of Appeal Judith Prakash, and Justices Belinda Ang, Quentin Loh and Chua Lee Ming - will give its verdict at a later date. The decision is final.




 






 






Amending law should be left to Parliament: Defence

By Selina Lum, Law Correspondent, The Straits Times, 2 Aug 2017

In 1993, Malaysia's equivalent provision on criminal breach of trust (CBT) as an agent was amended by Parliament, with the currently contentious phrase "in the way of his business" replaced with "in his capacity".

This was cited by the defence yesterday as it supported the Singapore High Court's judgment that it was up to Parliament to amend the law if there was a gap to be plugged regarding the definition of agent.

In April, the majority of a three-judge High Court panel ruled that the six people convicted of misappropriating millions in City Harvest Church funds can be punished under only plain CBT and not CBT as agents, which carries a heavier punishment.

The court agreed that it was "intuitively unsatisfactory" that directors, who occupy positions of power, trust and responsibility, would be liable for only plain CBT, while an employee would be liable for the more aggravated offence of CBT as a servant.

"This does not, however, mean that we can ignore the wording of the section," the High Court had said, adding that the task of rewriting the law should be left to Parliament.



Yesterday, Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, who acts for Tan Ye Peng, noted that the prosecution is asking the gap to be "filled up by judicial construction".

He said that, despite being aware of "how badly its interpretation will meet with normal instincts", the High Court decided to give the provision its literal meaning and "not to bring in what you want a statute to be".

He said the prosecution's submissions "would make a wonderful second reading speech for amendments to (Section) 409 but it is not what 409 means".

Later, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang asked Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair which is the appropriate institution to determine the issue.

"We can go the Malaysian way or the Indian way," replied Mr Nair.

In a landmark case cited by the prosecution to support its arguments, the Indian Supreme Court rejected the argument that "agent" under CBT law has to be a professional agent. The phrase "in the way of his business" also remains in the relevant provision in the Indian Penal Code.

"A Singapore court will go the Singapore way," said Justice Phang, to laughter in the courtroom. He added: "We have to be grounded in legal principles. We can't amend the statutes."











* 5-judge Court of Appeal to hear City Harvest criminal reference case on 1 Aug 2017

By Selina Lum, The Straits Times, 9 May 2017

The case involving the misuse of millions in City Harvest Church funds, which has landed founder Kong Hee and others in jail, will be heard by a five-judge Court of Appeal on Aug 1.

The criminal reference for the case has been fixed for hearing before Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash, and Justices Belinda Ang, Quentin Loh and Chua Lee Ming, a Supreme Court spokesman said in response to queries from The Straits Times.

The decision of the court is final.



Last month, Kong and five others had their jail terms slashed for criminal breach of trust (CBT) by the High Court.

They were cleared of the more serious form of CBT as agents and instead found guilty simply of CBT.

As a result, their initial jail terms of between 21 months and eight years were reduced to between seven months and 31/2 years.

Prosecutors then applied for a rarely invoked criminal reference, to seek a definitive ruling on questions of law of public interest as well as to ask the apex court to reinstate the original convictions.



Kong, 52, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44, former finance manager Serina Wee, 40, former finance committee member John Lam, 49, and former finance manager Sharon Tan, 41, started serving their jail terms on April 21.

Former fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56, was allowed to suspend his sentence. He has applied for permission to file his own criminal reference covering 10 broad areas, including the meaning of misappropriation. Chew's application is fixed for hearing in early July.










AGC file criminal reference with Court of Appeal over City Harvest Church verdict

AGC asks apex court to review key issues in City Harvest case
If ruling is in its favour, AGC will ask the court to restore original convictions of church leaders
By Selina Lum, The Straits Times, 11 Apr 2017

Three days after six City Harvest Church leaders had their jail terms slashed despite being found guilty of misusing millions in church funds, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said it will take the case to Singapore's highest court.

Yesterday, it filed a rarely invoked criminal reference to seek a definitive ruling by the Court of Appeal on "questions of law of public interest" that have arisen in the case - particularly on the treatment of directors in criminal breach of trust (CBT) cases.

And if it gets a ruling in its favour on the questions of law, the AGC said it will ask the apex court to restore the original convictions of the six leaders and "make the necessary and consequential orders" on their sentences.



Last Friday, CHC founder Kong Hee, 52, and five other church leaders had their jail terms cut for their roles in the misuse of $50 million of church funds to fuel the pop music career of his wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, in a church mission.

The six were originally convicted in 2015 of committing an aggravated form of CBT "as agents", under Section 409 of the Penal Code. They were given jail terms ranging from 21 months to eight years.

But in a split decision last Friday, the majority of a three-judge High Court panel ruled that the six do not fall within the meaning of "agents" under the provision and replaced the offence with plain CBT, under Section 406.

As a result, their jail terms were cut to between seven months and 3-1/2 years.



Yesterday , the AGC said in a statement: "Having carefully considered the written grounds, the prosecution is of the view that there are questions of law of public interest that have arisen out of the High Court's decision."

The questions included "whether a director or a member of the governing body of a company or organisation who is entrusted with property, or with any dominion over property, is so entrusted in the way of his business as an agent for the purposes of Section 409 of the Penal Code".

A criminal reference has been filed to refer these questions of law to the Court of Appeal, said the prosecution. It said it intends to request that the apex court reinstate the original convictions.

Mr Shashi Nathan, a partner at Withers KhattarWong, noted that the request was significant, as the prosecution is not only asking the Court of Appeal to give a ruling on questions of law, but also to reverse the High Court's decision.

Another lawyer, Mr Eugene Thuraisingam, said the Court of Appeal has the "full discretion to leave the sentence as it is, increase it, decrease it".

Mr Thuraisingam, who has been involved in a criminal reference, said applications are not uncommon. But the threshold - a question of law of public interest - is high.

Last Friday, all the six accused were granted deferments of their jail terms. Lawyers not related to the case said they can apply to the High Court for a stay on their sentences pending the Court of Appeal's decision.

Kong, through his lawyer, Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, said: "I understand that the prosecution has filed a criminal reference to the Court of Appeal. I will study this carefully with my lawyers and will consider the next step to take."



































* City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and 4 leaders surrender at State Courts to start jail terms

Kong Hee: I am totally at peace
Founder waves and gives supporters a weak smile as he enters courtroom
By Ng Huiwen and Lin Yangchen, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2017

As heavy rain bore down yesterday, City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee arrived at the State Courts to surrender and begin his 3½-year jail term.

Looking sombre, Kong, 52, was the first to turn up among the five church leaders due to start their sentences yesterday after they were convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds. At about 8.30am, he told reporters: "I am totally at peace and I am grateful to God for this. I have nothing more to say, just let me thank my friends."



Kong, who wore a white shirt and black trousers without his usual black jacket, then spoke individually to some 20 church members gathered outside the courtroom. Some were teary-eyed as Kong hugged them and shook hands. His wife and church founder Ho Yeow Sun was not present as she was said to be taking care of their family.

Kong faces the longest jail term among the six CHC leaders found guilty in 2015 of varying charges of criminal breach of trust and falsification of church accounts.

Their jail terms were cut on April 7 after the High Court reduced their criminal breach of trust charge to a less serious one on appeal.

Five of them asked to defer their sentences by two weeks, while the sixth, former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, was allowed to delay starting his sentence of three years and four months' jail until the Court of Appeal has made its final ruling on questions of law that have arisen from the case.



Next to arrive was former CHC finance manager Sharon Tan, who sported a new, short haircut. She faces the shortest jail sentence of seven months.

Tan, 41, was followed by former church finance committee member John Lam, 49, who got 1½ years. He and Kong later shared a long hug.

Close to 9am, Kong waved goodbye and gave a weak smile to church supporters as he entered the courtroom. The crowd, which had grown to about 50 people by then, looked on quietly.

CHC's deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44, who was sentenced to three years and two months' in jail, reached the courts just after 9am. Looking tired but relaxed, he said he had taken his children to school earlier in the morning.

Former finance manager Serina Wee, 40, was the last of the five church leaders to arrive, holding her husband's hand tightly.

Later, outside the courtroom, her husband Kenny Low fought to stay calm as Wee sobbed and hugged him and said she would miss him. Wee, who had also cut her hair short, will serve 2 ½ years in prison.

By 9.20am, all five had turned themselves in, as some church members outside the courtroom teared up while others were stoic.



A church member of 12 years, who wanted to be known only as Gerald, told The Straits Times he was feeling overwhelmed.

"Of course, we are deeply saddened but as Pastor Kong said, we have to stand together and trust in God. We have to keep the church going while pastor is away so that the church becomes stronger when he is back," the 27-year-old said.

In a message on the church's website yesterday, executive pastors Aries Zulkarnain and Bobby Chaw urged the congregration to keep the five in their prayers, even as "we will not see them for a season".

The church's lawyer Nichol Yeo of JLC Advisors said in a statement that CHC "will continue working to improve the standards and governance within the church".

He said: "The church is very committed to implementing the highest levels of governance to prevent future lapses."























No Internet access, two visits a month for Changi inmates

By K.C. Vijayan, Senior Law Correspondent and Melody Zaccheus, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2017

The five City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders who began serving their jail sentences at Changi Prison yesterday will step into a place with which their church has had dealings for many years.

CHC has been providing chapel services and support group sessions at Changi Prison since 2001. The Straits Times understands, however, that the convicted leaders will probably not have access to their own church's services to ensure there is no "conflict of interest".

If they want, however, CHC founder Kong Hee and the others will be able to attend Christian counselling services offered by other churches.

Kong and the other church leaders - John Lam, Tan Ye Peng, Sharon Tan and Serina Wee - are serving prison terms ranging from seven months to 42 months.



After paperwork and a medical examination for the three men in the Changi Prison Complex, prison officials will decide whether to house them in a maximum-security or medium-security facility. Many high-profile prisoners end up in a maximum-security facility, where they have fewer dealings with other prisoners.

The women will undergo a similar process at the Changi Women's Prison and exchange their civilian clothes for standard prison T-shirts and shorts.

The inmates' belongings have to be surrendered to prison staff and can be redeemed on release or by their family members.

No long hair is allowed for male or female prisoners, unless the inmate is a Sikh. The hair must be above the ears. As they turned themselves in yesterday, both women had already cut their hair short.

Days in prison normally revolve around activities such as training, counselling and work for which the inmates receive allowances.

The jobs they do could involve laundry, cooking and baking, call centres, or business jobs outsourced to prisons. But not all inmates are eligible or deployed for work.

The prison issues standard gear to inmates such as a blanket, a mug and a toothbrush each. They also have access to newspapers and can watch television during prescribed hours. There is, however, no Internet access.

Inmates are served three meals a day. These are simple but nutritious - usually rice with fish or meat and vegetables. The cutlery is usually made of plastic, for security reasons. They have their dinner in their cells, which are of different sizes for different numbers of them.

They can exercise and work out regularly.

Inmates are allowed visits from family members and other approved visitors. They can choose to have either two tele-visits a month, each lasting 30 minutes, or one tele-visit and one face-to-face visit. The face-to-face visit can last up to 20 minutes and can include up to three visitors. Inmates are also allowed to receive approved reading materials of up to three items per visit.

With good conduct, Kong, like the others, could earn a one-third remission on his jail sentence. This could see his prison term cut to 28 months. He may even qualify for home detention for the tail-end of his jail term, and effectively serve two years in jail.

Among other things, inmates have to serve at least half their jail term before being considered for home detention. Such home detention cannot be longer than six months, according to the Prisons Act.















City Harvest lawyers to study AGC filings before next move

Prosecution gets ready for another battle after apex court review
By Danson Cheong and Selina Lum, The Straits Times, 11 Apr 2017

The dust is far from settled for the six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders convicted of multimillion-dollar fraud, as the prosecution gears up for another battle in court.

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) has now filed a criminal reference with the Court of Appeal, raising "questions of law of public interest" that had arisen with a High Court three-judge panel's ruling on the case.

The six involved and their lawyers appeared to be studying the latest development, with senior pastor Kong Hee, 52, saying through his lawyer Edwin Tong that he would look at the filing carefully before considering the next move.

Lawyers for former finance manager Serina Wee, 40, also said they were still reviewing documents submitted by the AGC.

Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, who represents deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44, said last night that he had just received the AGC's documents and had not discussed them with his client, while lawyers for former finance committee member John Lam, 49, and former finance manager Sharon Tan, 41, had no comment.

Former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56, who is representing himself, told The Straits Times that the move by the AGC was predictable. "I don't think they will succeed," said Chew, who said he would raise a criminal reference of his own soon, without specifying what or when. Chew added that he agreed with the High Court's interpretation of the law in its ruling.

When contacted, CHC executive pastor Aries Zulkanain said: "We put all our trust in God, and we will do what we have been doing these seven years - we will pray."

Lawyers told The Straits Times it was appropriate that the AGC had filed a criminal reference.

Mr Eugene Thuraisingam said there is a question of law of public interest because of the conflicting decisions, not only in the Singapore High Court but also in the interpretation of the Indian equivalent, which is considered an authority.

In the 1976 case of Tay Choo Wah, which set the legal position in Singapore till now, the High Court considered two conflicting authorities, one related to India's penal code and the other to Ceylon's.

"My opinion is that the majority got it correct," he said.

Mr Shashi Nathan, a partner at Withers KhattarWong, said the question of which section of the law directors should be charged under for criminal breach of trust (CBT) is one that has to be resolved as it affects future prosecutions.

At the heart of the AGC's filing is the High Court's decision to reduce the charges of CBT which the six had been convicted of.

They had all been found guilty of CBT as agents under Section 409 of the Penal Code.

But the High Court ruled that the six church leaders are not considered agents under the provision - with two of the three judges ruling that "agent" connoted someone in a professional capacity - and reduced their offences to basic CBT, under Section 406, which carries lighter sentences.

The AGC is asking the Court of Appeal to decide on this point of law: whether a director or a member of the governing body of a company or organisation who is entrusted with or has dominion over property, can be construed as an agent.

The six CHC leaders were initially sentenced to jail terms of between eight years (for Kong) and 21 months (for Sharon Tan).

This was dramatically reduced by the High Court last Friday, to 3½ years for Kong and seven months for Tan.











KEY QUESTIONS IN THE CASE

Q What is a criminal reference?

A When questions of law of public interest have arisen in a criminal matter, after the High Court has decided on the appeal, either party can file a motion to refer these questions to the Court of Appeal. The procedure, known as a criminal reference, is provided for under Section 397 of the Criminal Procedure Code.


Q Who can file it?

A Both the prosecution as well as the accused person can file a criminal reference.

The public prosecutor does not need the permission of the Court of Appeal to do so, but accused persons need to seek permission. An application for permission must be made within one month of the High Court's decision.


Q What are questions of law of public interest?

A The question of law must be one that is of public interest and not just personally important to the parties alone.


Q What are the possible scenarios in the City Harvest case now that a criminal reference has been filed by the prosecution?

A If the Court of Appeal agrees with the High Court's interpretation of the law, then the High Court's decision last Friday will prevail.

If the Court of Appeal disagrees with the High Court's interpretation, there is a wide range of possibilities. It can give a definitive ruling on the questions of law without disturbing the convictions and sentences of the six City Harvest Church leaders.

The prosecution has, however, requested that the Court of Appeal reinstate the original convictions of the six church leaders. If the court agrees to the request, the six will find themselves back to the 2015 convictions on the more serious criminal breach of trust charge. However, the court has the discretion to sentence them.


Q Will a different set of judges be hearing the criminal reference?

A Yes. A different panel, from the other judges on the Supreme Court bench, will be convened to hear the criminal reference, and the decision will be binding.


Q What sort of timeframe are we looking at?

A Lawyer Shashi Nathan said it could be "months" before the Court of Appeal hears the case. He said the court may appoint an amicus curiae (Latin for friend of the court) to give an independent view as a third party.


Q Is there any recourse for the accused persons after the Court of Appeal rules on the criminal reference?

A The decision of the Court of Appeal in a criminal reference is final.


Q Can the accused persons wait for the Court of Appeal hearing to be over before they start serving their sentences?

A The accused persons can apply to the High Court for a stay on their sentences pending the outcome of the Court of Appeal decision, said lawyers.


Q How common are criminal reference cases in Singapore?

A Applications are "not uncommon" but it is rare for the court to grant permission to accused persons, said lawyer Eugene Thuraisingam.

Lawyer Tan Hee Joek said only rare cases can satisfy the criteria to refer to the Court of Appeal as they are meant to restrict such reference unless questions of law of public interest are involved.



PAST CASES

In 2010, lawyer Bachoo Mohan Singh, who was convicted of helping a client dishonestly make a false claim before a court, succeeded in his criminal reference.

He was sentenced to three months' jail. At an appeal in the High Court, his conviction was upheld but his sentence was reduced to one month's jail and a $10,000 fine.

But he took his case all the way to the Court of Appeal, on the legal question of what exactly is a false claim, and how far a lawyer has to go to make sure that what his client tells him is true. Mr Singh was eventually acquitted.

In 2014, the prosecution filed criminal references in two unrelated cases of private-sector corruption. Former Ikea food and beverage manager Leng Kah Poh and former Seagate senior director of logistics Henry Teo Chu Ha were acquitted on appeal to the same High Court judge after he ruled that their actions did not amount to corruption.

After the Court of Appeal agreed with the prosecution that the High Court's interpretation of the law was wrong, it reinstated their original convictions.























City Harvest appeal: AGC is considering whether it is possible to take further steps, says Shanmugam
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 8 Apr 2017

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) is considering whether it is possible to take further steps on the City Harvest Church case and will decide by early next week, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Saturday (Apr 8).

All six church leaders convicted of criminal breach of trust got their sentences reduced by a three-judge panel under the appeal verdict released a day earlier.

In November 2015, the six, including church founder Kong Hee, were handed jail terms ranging from 21 months to eight years in the largest case of misuse of charitable funds in Singapore history.

All six appealed against their conviction, while the AGC appealed against the sentences for being too low.

Mr Shanmugam, who was at a racial and religious harmony event in Toa Payoh on Saturday, said: "The media is reporting that the matter is over, that this is final. Not quite. The matter is not over yet."

He told reporters that the Government agreed with the AGC's view that the original sentence was too low.



Church founder Kong Hee was originally handed an eight-year jail sentence, which was reduced to 3 1/2 years on Friday. The other five church leaders also had their jail terms reduced after the court, in a split 2-1 decision, found them guilty of a less serious charge of criminal breach of trust.

Referring to three High Court judges and one State Court judge who heard the case, Mr Shanmugam said that in terms of judges, two judges had thought that the sentences should stay or be raised. Another two judges thought the sentences should be lower, which resulted in the eventual decision to reduce the sentence.

The key reason was that the church directors were not considered to be agents, as laid out under Section 409 of the Penal Code which deals with criminal breach of trust. The judges thus found them guilty of a reduced charge of criminal breach of trust.

Said Mr Shanmugam: "From the Government's point of view, this reasoning, this legal reasoning has serious implications in other cases, including corruption cases and our zero-tolerance approach for the future.

"We will have to consider as a matter of policy what other steps to take because we cannot relax our stand on that," he said, citing as examples where directors take bribes. The minister said he had "asked AGC to advise whether we need to do anything".

But he also sounded a note of caution as he said:"I can understand that people have different views on the High Court judgment." Mr Shanmugam said that while people have a right to have their views on the judgment, they should be careful about abusing judges personally or "casting improper ulterior motives" on the judgments.

"The reasoning is there, they set it out, we agree, disagree, and from a Government point of view if we disagree then we always consider what we do. If necessary we legislate through Parliament," he said.

The six church leaders had channelled $24 million from CHC's building fund into sham bonds in music production company Xtron and glass-maker Firna. They used the money to fund the singing career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, as part of the Crossover Project, a church mission which they said was to evangelise through Ms Ho's music.

Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the sham bond investments.

Mr Shanmugam said he has "also noted the court's comments on the way the matter was handled by the prosecution".

The High Court had, in its judgment, commented on how the prosecution had run its case.

The court noted that the prosecution had not focused on any gain to third parties due to the church leaders' actions, even though this may have been suggested in the charges.

While the prosecution did attempt to touch on the gains by Kong's wife, Ms Sun, this point was not raised in its written submissions for the appeal and was also not raised before the Judge.

"In the circumstances, we approach the sentencing in this case as one without any element of wrongful gain or personal financial benefit, either direct or indirect," said the judgment.

Mr Shanmugam said that he had asked the new Attorney-General Lucien Wong and deputy Attorney-Generals to look into the matter.

"It may take time but we have good people at the top and they should be able to deal with that," he told reporters.

















City Harvest case: Legal costs may run up to record $15m for criminal trial

Each of the five defendants who still has a counsel could incur up to $1m more in lawyers' fees
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 12 Apr 2017

The most expensive criminal trial in Singapore's history is set to get even more expensive.

Lawyers' fees for the 142-day City Harvest Church (CHC) trial at the State Courts, from its start in May 2013 to sentencing in November 2015, had previously been estimated to cost more than $10 million.

But this could rise by between $1 million and $5 million more, now that the prosecution has referred the case to the Court of Appeal.

This came after a High Court appeal last Friday ended with jail terms for all six defendants cut.

Each of the five defendants who are still being represented by lawyers could incur at least $1 million more in legal fees, for what is likely to be the most crucial stretch left in the long-drawn case, said senior lawyer Foo Cheow Ming.

"As the criminal reference (at the apex court) is crucial and will affect the bottom line fate of each party, I don't see the additional fees as being lower than $1 million per head, as starters, maybe even more."

Taking a different view, Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi said additional legal costs might possibly be kept at about $250,000 per party as the criminal reference will be centred solely on the interpretation of Section 409 of the Penal Code.

"The work the lawyers have to do at this stage may be fairly limited. They know the facts of the case well and instead, they will be now diving deeper into an isolated point of law."



The sixth defendant, former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, has been representing himself since May 2014.

Four of the other five are represented by high-ranking senior counsel, who typically charge $1,200 or more an hour, lawyers said. And the appearance of these top counsel in the High Court or Court of Appeal usually costs about $10,000 to $20,000 a day.

However, the lawyers may agree on a cap on legal fees, depending on a client's ability to pay.

The CHC trial is the second longest in history, beaten only by a drug-trafficking case in the 1990s that went on for 168 days.

Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, who represents CHC deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, said yesterday: "The truth of the matter is that most, if not all, of the accused (including my client) have long run out of funds to pay their fees during the trial itself, let alone for the appeal and now the reference."

But the lawyers have continued "because it is our duty to complete a job that we have started and because we have come to see our clients as people caught in circumstances that they did not fully appreciate at the time events took place".

The lawyers for the other four defendants declined to comment.

In June 2012, the Commissioner of Charities (COC) issued an order to restrict CHC from paying the legal fees of those involved in the case, and neither the church nor its employees may be involved in raising funds for the legal costs.

A COC spokesman told The Straits Times the order is still in force.

However, the church, in a list of questions on the case posted on its website, said that while it is restricted by the authorities from helping to pay for the legal fees, "individual members are free to support them".

















Kong Hee's 'temporary' Sentosa Cove home remains unsold
Property believed to have been taken off the market even as lawyers' fees continue to climb
By Tan Tam Mei, The Sunday Times, 16 Apr 2017

Almost two years after it was put up for sale, the Sentosa Cove apartment co-owned by City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee remains unsold.

The Sunday Times understands that Kong, 52, and his family - wife Ho Yeow Sun and son Dayan - are still living in The Oceanfront duplex penthouse that he co-owns with Indonesian tycoon Wahju Hanafi.

The 5,242 sq ft unit has also been taken off the market, sources told The Sunday Times.

In 2015, Kong had said that the Sentosa Cove penthouse was "only our temporary home, until the property is sold".

A video posted on CHC's Facebook page late last month showed Kong, Ms Ho and other church members seated at a balcony similar to that of the Sentosa Cove property.

Kong and Mr Hanafi bought the apartment for $9.33 million in 2007 and each paid monthly instalments of $17,000.

In 2015, The Straits Times reported on the property being listed with the asking price of $10 million. Kong said then that his family moved into the Sentosa Cove home after he had to sell his other properties to pay his legal fees.



The latest Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore records show that it remains today under the names of Kong and Mr Hanafi. Kong and five other former and current CHC members have chalked up millions of dollars in lawyers' fees in the most expensive criminal trial in Singapore history, which started in May 2013. All six have been convicted of varying charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying church accounts.

Kong and other defendants, John Lam, Tan Ye Peng, Serina Wee, and Sharon Tan, are represented by lawyers, many of them senior counsel.

The sixth defendant, former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, has been representing himself since May 2014.

Following a High Court appeal last Friday which saw jail terms for all six defendants cut, the prosecution has referred the case to the Court of Appeal - and legal fees can only be expected to climb.

Lawyers estimated that the costs could possibly run up to a record $15 million.

A note on CHC's website suggested that church members could help the six defendants with their legal fees. It stated: "As you can imagine, their families have many needs... While the church is restricted by the authorities from helping them to pay for their legal fees, individual members are free to support them. As always, keep them and their families in prayer."

Members that The Sunday Times spoke to said that they remain supportive of their church leaders but they do not intend to contribute to paying off their legal fees.

Said Mr Andrew Kho, 33, a strategic partnership manager who has been a church member for five years: "Our priority is not to raise legal fees, in fact this was never brought up before.

"We can give support by continuing to attend services and be faithful towards the church and our leaders during this time when many others have left."

Another church member, Mr Eric Wong, 38, declined to comment on whether he would support the leaders' legal fees.

However, Mr Wong, a music producer who has been with the church for 18 years, said: "But I'm sure there will be other church members who will want to and will be able to contribute in this area.

"For the rest of us, we just want to get on with our usual church activities."










Six not motivated by personal gain: Judges
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 8 Apr 2017

They were not motivated by personal gain and they thought they were acting in the best interests of City Harvest Church (CHC).

Ultimately, the church leaders believed their actions would advance the Crossover Project, a church mission to spread the Gospel through pop music, and this was generally supported by the congregation.

These were the "exceptional" mitigating factors considered by a three-judge panel, in reducing the jail terms for the six convicted CHC leaders yesterday.

In a 304-page written judgment, the judges noted that the case should not be seen as a "sinister and malicious attempt" by the six to use the church's funds for their own purposes, despite the huge sum of about $50 million involved.

Rather, they had "resorted to deceit and lies", such as hiding the truth of their transactions from auditors and lawyers, because they wanted to keep the use of the church's monies for the Crossover Project confidential.

They also feared questions would be asked, the judges said, adding that "their fault lies in adopting the wrong means".



On the issue of personal gain, the judges said that while the prosecution noted in its oral submissions that there was benefit accrued to Kong Hee's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, this was not raised in its written submissions for the appeal. The issue of personal benefit was, therefore, not factored into the sentencing.

The prosecution, calling for stiffer sentences, stressed the misappropriation of charity funds as among the aggravating factors.

But the court clarified that while CHC is a charity organisation, it is not a charity that is also an Institution of a Public Character. This means that donations to the church are not tax-deductible. Thus, donations to church funds "are invariably made by its members for the benefit of the church" and do not serve the community as a whole.

In addition, the six, though "reckless" with the funds, had no intention of causing permanent financial loss to the church.

"The appellants had, at all times, intended for the funds... to be eventually returned to CHC with the stated interest even if they might not have been entirely sure as to how or when they could do so at the time," the judges said.

In meting out the harshest sentence among the six to Kong, the judges agreed that he was the "ultimate leader" of the five others.









Five key highlights of the judgment
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 8 Apr 2017

WHY WERE THE CBT CHARGES REDUCED?

The court found that City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee, 52, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44, and former finance committee member John Lam, 49, were not "agents" entrusted with dominion over CHC's funds.

While they held important positions in the church, it does not mean they were offering their "services as an agent to the community at large" or making their living as an agent. This is unlike a banker, a broker or a lawyer.

With this, the aggravated charge of CBT under Section 409 of the Penal Code, which involves CBT by a public servant, banker, merchant or agent, was reduced to a simpler charge under Section 406.

The lesser charge of CBT had a "significant impact" in the reduction of the sentences, as the maximum punishments of the two are "markedly different", the court said. The maximum jail terms under Section 406 are less than half that for those under Section 409.

Despite the huge sum of about $50 million involved, the court recognised that there had been no personal gain, among other mitigating factors, and "their fault lies in adopting the wrong means".


WHY WERE THE ACCOUNT FALSIFICATION CHARGES UPHELD?

These were related to entries recorded in the church's accounts in October and early November 2009 showing that the sham bonds purchased by the church's building funds were redeemed. The court held that the accused were aware the entries were false and they intended to defraud.





WHAT DID JUDGES SAY ABOUT KONG HEE?

Kong's role was that of "spiritual leader" of the five others, providing the "overall direction and moral assurance for their actions". Thus, his overall culpability was the greatest.

He was also one of the main players - if not the main one - who had influenced the others into using the church's funds to purchase sham bonds, even if he did not directly participate in redeeming them.


WHAT DID THE DIFFERING JUDGE SAY?

Justice Chan Seng Onn, in differing from Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justice Woo Bih Li, noted there were elements of benefit to Kong and his wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun. There was also permanent financial loss to the church.

Justice Chan called for a dismissal of the appeals for the six accused and prosecution.
















Ruling may set new legal position on CBT
Decision departs from 1970s precedent in interpreting criminal breach of trust
By Selina Lum, The Straits Times, 8 Apr 2017

A key aspect of the verdict in the City Harvest Church (CHC) case could have wider ramifications for future criminal breach of trust cases, said lawyers.

CHC founder Kong Hee and five other church leaders had their sentences reduced because - while they were found guilty of criminal breach of trust (CBT) - they were cleared of the more serious charge of committing CBT as "agents".

Instead, they were convicted on plain CBT under Section 406 of the Penal Code, under which the maximum penalty is less than half of that for aggravated CBT under Section 409.

In reaching this conclusion, the High Court broke away from a legal position - based on the 1970s High Court case of Tay Choo Wah - that has prevailed in Singapore for the past 40 years.

Till now, directors who misappropriate the property of the company they are entrusted with are liable for the more serious offence of CBT as agents, under Section 409 of the Penal Code.

Section 409 makes it an offence for a person who misappropriates property that is entrusted to him "in the way of his business as a banker, a merchant, a factor, a broker, an attorney or an agent".

But yesterday, two judges out of a three-judge High Court panel ruled that directors such as the CHC leaders cannot be considered "agents" under Section 409.

The majority interpreted the provision to mean that in order to be found guilty under Section 409, the accused must be "in the business of an agent" at the time the property is entrusted to him.

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin said the provision applies only to a "professional agent" who offers his services as an agent or makes his living as an agent.

In addition, the relationship between a director, who is entrusted with the property, and the company, which is the one entrusting the property, is an internal one. This stands in stark contrast, he said, to the external nature of the relationship that "a banker, a merchant, a factor, a broker (or) an attorney" shares with his customer who entrusts the property to him.

The second judge, Justice Woo Bih Li, agreed with him. The third, Justice Chan Seng Onn, disagreed.

Justice Chao stressed that the judge who convicted the CHC leaders was not wrong. This is because, as a lower court judge, he was legally bound by the Tay Choo Wah case.

The decision has significant ramifications, say lawyers.

"It will impact the way company directors who commit CBT of company funds are charged in future," said Mr Lee Teck Leng of Lee Chambers, who has been a criminal lawyer for over 20 years.

Mr Shashi Nathan, a partner at Withers KhattarWong, said: "There will be a rethink on how to prosecute accused persons in the future. For defence lawyers, there will be a seismic shift in how we pitch our cases."

Mr Lee said that as there are now two conflicting High Court decisions, the matter could go up to the Court of Appeal by way of a criminal reference on a question of law of public interest.

















Rise and fall of a superstar pastor
By Melody Zaccheus, The Sunday Times, 9 Apr 2017

On Friday, Kong Hee sat stony-faced in the High Court, as a three-judge panel delivered its verdict.

Clad in his usual sharp black suit, the 52-year-old looked steelily ahead when he later exited the court, ignoring the barrage of questions from the media scrum.

It was a marked contrast to the charismatic eloquence that had helped propel his City Harvest Church (CHC) to its superstar status over the past three decades.

In 1989, the computer science graduate, then 25, started CHC in a single-storey terraced house at 41A Amber Road. It was called Ekklesia Ministry. His congregation comprised 20 teenagers.

The Raffles Institution old boy would cycle to see church-goers. Sometimes he would turn up for work dressed in a T-shirt and slippers, according to a church member interviewed for a 2002 article.



He married Ms Ho Yeow Sun in 1992, and the couple set up home in a Tampines flat although they would later live in a $9.3 million Sentosa Cove penthouse.

Registered as a society in 1992, CHC had few assets - it had no place of its own and services were held at rented conference rooms.

Mr Kirk Png's journey with CHC began at one such venue in 1993 - at the World Trade Centre. Then a Buddhist, Mr Png had been invited by friends. He said: "The congregation was about 800-strong. It was the friendship and presence of God that led me to stay when I faced parental objections."

The compliance consultant, 42, described the church's early years as "young and dynamic". "Many of us were young Christians. We learnt how to build up our character to be good Christians so we would make an impact when we stepped out."

In 1995, CHC moved to the Hollywood Theatre in Tanjong Katong. During its six years there, its congregation swelled from 1,300 to 10,000. Then came the millennium, with 2001 as a pivotal year. It erected a $47.6 million compound in Jurong West with a $583,000 fountain. At its peak, its coffers and congregation expanded - to $100 million and 33,000, respectively.

But controversy followed.

In 2002, Ms Ho recorded her first Mandopop album, Sun With Love, for what CHC called the Crossover Project - a mission to spread the Gospel through pop music. It was meant to launch her career in the US. That same year, Kong was asked whether it was appropriate for a pastor to be a pop star. He replied: "Why don't we wait and see... if Sun compromises on her integrity and values. I have a feeling she won't."

But some church-goers were concerned. In 2003, a member, Mr Roland Poon, alleged that the church's building fund had been misused to finance Ms Ho's music career. He later retracted the allegations and took out advertisements in five newspapers to apologise.

Later, Ms Ho outraged some when she was photographed in a revealing red Armani dress at the Hollywood Film Festival. Some also expressed discomfort over her music videos being played before services.

During the trial, the court learnt that more than US$8 million (S$11 million) had been spent on Sun With Love. This included US$1.6 million in production fees for American rapper Wyclef Jean.

But the album was never released although singles were produced. Of these, the 2007 music video China Wine - in which Ms Ho adopted a persona called Geisha - was the most controversial.

Now 44, Ms Ho was reported to have received over half a million in bonuses and advances, including a $30,000 birthday cash gift and an $80,000 "special performance bonus for hits in the US or the United Kingdom" in 2006.

In court last year, deputy public prosecutor Christopher Ong noted that Kong and the other five accused church leaders had not shown remorse - which ordinarily would be a mitigating factor.

During the case, CHC's attendance fell. In 2015, it drew a congregation of 16,482 - a 30 per cent drop from 2009, a year before investigations began. But Mr Png said of the dip: "What is important is not who has left but who has stayed. When things happen you don't just leave the family and move on."

On the status of the Crossover Project, a CHC spokesman told The Sunday Times: "As a church, we believe that the cultural mandate and marketplace evangelism are every believer's calling.

"As for the means in which we express these, we need to take time to pray and seek God for the future."

Over the past four years, it had also become more transparent about the management of its assets and funds, she added.




















































Teary eyes after court hands down verdict
By Melody Zaccheus and Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 8 Apr 2017

Eyes turned red and filled with tears after the six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders at the centre of a long saga heard the verdict handed down by the High Court.

The reality of a jail term hit CHC leaders Sharon Tan, 41, and Serina Wee, 40, particularly hard as they teared up while exiting court.

Meanwhile, Tan Ye Peng, 44, looking contrite, hugged and shook hands with supporters who respectfully addressed him as "pastor". Tan's lawyer N. Sreenivasan said he "regrets the turmoil the church has gone through".

The six sat behind a glass screen in court yesterday, stoic and solemn, as the verdict was delivered.

Church founder Kong Hee, 52, later took to social media to say: "I know that many of you have been praying and fasting for the team and (me). I am very thankful for the support and prayers that have been shown to our families."



Speaking softly over the phone to The Straits Times, his wife, CHC executive director Ho Yeow Sun, said: "Keep my family in prayer. It is a difficult time for us."

Mr Kenny Low, husband of former finance manager Wee, said they have mixed feelings over the decision. On her reduced sentence, he said: "It is just a number. It is still time lost and the opportunity to be with your loved ones taken away."

Five of the leaders had asked for two weeks of deferment in serving their sentences, citing reasons such as spending time with family over Easter on April 16, and the need for time to consider legal options.

Former CHC finance manager Sharon Tan's husband and two children will be relocating to the United States on an expatriate package, and she sought to have the sentence deferred by two months.

Although disappointed that there was no acquittal, Tan recognised that her sentence was cut from 21 months to seven months. Her lawyer Paul Seah said: "Now, it will be time for Sharon to pray and spend time with family."

Meanwhile, former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 49, said: "(I am) obviously sad... Ultimately, we did it for the church, for the Crossover (Project)."

Cell group leader and finance manager Lim Choon Kiong, 38, told The Straits Times: "I do know a couple of the leaders personally... Most of them have children or are sole breadwinners. Their jail terms will impact their families a lot."

Former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56, who has left the church, said he had expected his conviction to be overturned. "I will spend the next few days thinking about my grounds for appealing."

Responding to The Straits Times, the National Council of Churches of Singapore, which represents over 250 churches, reiterated the need for churches to be "extra vigilant about matters of sound governance". It said its president Rennis Ponniah, on behalf of the council, "will be sending a personal message to express our continued prayers for Pastor Kong Hee, his family and CHC, and also assuring him and (CHC of) continued fellowship with us as part of the body of Christ".

Additional reporting by Toh Wen Li, Abigail Ng, Raynold Toh, Zhao Jiayi









 






 












 
























 
















































 












 







































City Harvest trial: A very extravagant way to spread gospel, says judge
It could have used ads or concerts, instead of spending $24m on Ho's music career, he says
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 22 Sep 2016

There are cheaper ways to evangelise than the $24 million that City Harvest Church (CHC) spent on Ms Ho Yeow Sun's pop music career.

The church could have bought television or newspaper advertisements. Or it could have organised Korean pop concerts, with CHC senior pastor Kong Hee preaching afterwards.

Instead the way it went about spreading its gospel was "very extravagant", said Justice Chan Seng Onn in the High Court yesterday.

Justice Chan is one of three judges hearing the appeal of the six CHC leaders convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds to promote Ms Ho's career in a mission known as the Crossover Project. Yesterday was the close of the five-day hearing, and a judgment will be delivered at a later, as yet unknown, date.

Of the many ways to evangelise, Justice Chan said: "It can be through Sun Ho singing, (or) it could be engaging, at a much cheaper cost, maybe K-pop (singers) and Kong Hee can come to the concert and then preach."

He spoke as the prosecution was presenting its arguments. It wants longer sentences for all six CHC leaders, who face terms of between 21 months and eight years. It is asking for terms of between five and 12 years instead.

The six CHC leaders are appealing against their conviction and sentences.

In October last year, the lower court found the CHC leaders had ploughed $24 million from CHC's building fund into bogus bonds used to fund the music career of Ms Ho, who is Kong's wife. Another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.



Justice Chan asked if members had supported the means in which the Crossover was carried out.

They did, said deputy public prosecutor (DPP) Christopher Ong, but "what they didn't know was how much the means was costing and they didn't know who was paying for that cost".

Later, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin also asked if the CHC leaders had been carrying out what they thought was a church purpose - "only they took the wrong route or the wrong means".

But DPP Ong said it was more important for the court to ask if church members supported the Crossover because they were not given the full facts about it.

Offering an analogy, he said: "If I were to offer you a Ferrari and I tell you that it is free of charge, you might well take it because, why not, it's free.

"If I tell you that I'm going to give you a Ferrari but use your money to pay for it, you may not be so supportive of the idea of my giving you a Ferrari."

He also told the court the six had not shown remorse - which ordinarily would be a mitigating factor.

"Restitution amounts to saying 'I am sorry', and this is not something we have heard from the offenders in this case," he said.

During the five-day hearing, lawyers for the five CHC leaders, and former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, who is representing himself, delivered impassioned arguments - often before a courtroom packed with over 50 people.

They stressed that the bonds used to fund the Crossover were genuine investments. Furthermore, the Crossover, which aimed to create "a megastar" in Ms Ho - who would attract non-Christians who could be preached to at her concerts - was a project that was supported by the church, said the lawyers.

At the close of yesterday's hearing, Justice Chao adjourned the case to give the judges time to go through the trial's voluminous record.

No date for a judgment was given by Justice Chao, who said: "This is something we need to give special consideration to... we can only promise you a judgment ASAP."
























City Harvest trial: Church leaders showed no remorse, says DPP as he calls for harsher sentences
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2016

Was the City Harvest Church (CHC) project to evangelise through the pop music of Ms Ho Yeow Sun a church purpose, or one that CHC leaders had foisted upon the congregation?

Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong asked the High Court this on Wednesday (Sept 21) in the ongoing appeal of the six CHC leaders at the centre of a multi-million dollar financial scandal.

In October last year, the six CHC leaders were convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of Ms Ho, the wife of CHC senior pastor Kong Hee, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

The court found that they had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds from music production company Xtron and glass-maker Firna, but this money was, in fact, used to fund the Crossover Project.

Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

The six, including Kong, are appealing against their convictions and sentences, while the prosecution is also appealing - for longer sentences.



The lower court had found that the Crossover Project was "indisputably a church purpose", but DPP Ong pointed out that it was the six CHC leaders who determined what was in the church's interests and has silenced dissenting points of view.

"What this calls into question is whether they can really say they were pursuing CHC's objectives or they were really pursuing a mandate that they had created and then foisted upon CHC," said DPP Ong.

Rebutting the point made by the six that the Crossover Project was supported by the majority of church members, DPP Ong said the support for the Crossover Project must be viewed in the context of what members were told about the project.

"They were not told who would be footing the bill," said DPP Ong.

He pointed out that the offenders had not shown remorse - which ordinarily could be a mitigating factor.

"Restitution amounts to saying 'I am sorry', and this is not something we have heard from the offenders in this case," he said.

"What we submit is, this is not a case of altruistic individuals who nobly set out to fulfil the goals of CHC."



The prosecution asked for much harsher sentences - jail terms of 11 to 12 years jail for Kong, CHC deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han and former CHC finance manager Serina Wee; eight to nine years for former CHC finance committee member John Lam; and five to six years for former CHC finance manager Sharon Tan.

The lower court handed out much lower terms in part because it found that the six had not been motivated by personal gain, and the church had not suffered any wrongful loss.

The six were given jail terms of between 21 months and eight years, with Kong facing the longest term.

The appeal, which ended at about 5.30pm, was heard by Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn.

"We can only promise you a judgment asap," said Judge Chao, who added that the trial's record was voluminous.









City Harvest leaders deceived members, auditors, lawyers: DPP
They subverted church's internal governance bodies, used positions of trust to misspend funds, court hears
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 21 Sep 2016

The six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders deceived church members, auditors and lawyers, and subverted the church's internal governance bodies, the High Court heard yesterday.

They used their positions of trust to misspend millions of dollars in charity funds - the largest amount in such a case in Singapore's legal history - on a pop singer's music career, according to Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong.

He was responding to the arguments against conviction put forth by the six CHC leaders at the centre of the financial scandal.

In October last year, the six were convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of CHC senior pastor Kong Hee's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

The court found that they had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds from music production firm Xtron and glass-maker Firna, and the money was used to fund the Crossover Project. Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

The six, including Kong, are appealing against their convictions and sentences - ranging from 21 months' to eight years' jail - while the prosecution is appealing for longer sentences.



DPP Ong said the CHC leaders knew the bonds were "excuses to expend building fund money on (Ms Ho's) music career" and not investments.

Addressing the arguments by the CHC leaders that there was a need for secrecy in carrying out the Crossover Project in order to avoid uncomfortable public scrutiny, DPP Ong said it was strange since the only thing needing to be "secret" was the fact that Ms Ho was funded by the church's building fund - which was "buried so deep that even the auditors don't know about it".

He said it was public knowledge that Ms Ho was "famous pastor Kong Hee's wife", and Kong would come out to preach at the end of her concerts.

"Where is the secrecy in this?" asked DPP Ong, adding that Kong and his conspirators also controlled the bond proceeds, choosing to spend them on the Crossover Project and deciding how and when they would be repaid to the church.

Justice Chan Seng Onn asked: "If I put out the money and eventually pay back to it myself, just sweeping around, playing around it myself, having full control of it, how can you call it an investment?"

DPP Ong replied: "Yes, your Honour, that is exactly our point."

Another issue discussed in court yesterday was whether the offences committed by the six CHC leaders fell under the ambit of Section 409 of the Penal Code that they were charged under.

This is the most aggravated form of criminal breach of trust, and sets out the offence as one committed by a person "in the way of his business as a banker, a merchant, a factor, a broker, an attorney or an agent banker, merchant or agent".

In this context, Justice Chan asked if "the church, as a society, is in the business of courting donations", with agents of the church then being seen as agents carrying out such business. DPP Ong disagreed. But he said Section 409 concerns individuals who "customarily and regularly are entrusted with funds which they are then supposed to take responsibility for".

Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin said that if the elements of Section 409 are not satisfied, the charges could be reduced. Arguments for the appeal will continue today.














































































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