SINGAPORE – Nine executive members of City Harvest Church have been asked to voluntarily extend their suspensions over a multimillion-dollar corruption case or risk being removed from their posts.
The Sunday Times understands that they have each received a letter from the Commissioner of Charities requesting that they remain away from their posts for longer than a year – which is the maximum that it can impose by law.
This is because their suspensions are due to be lifted this June, before the trial ends.
But some of them are understood to be refusing to agree to an extension because they are keen to return to their posts.
The case began in June last year when six of the church’s key ministry leaders were charged with conspiring to cheat it of millions of dollars.
Kong Hee, Tan Ye Peng, Sharon Tan, Chew Eng Han, Serina Wee and John Lam Leng Hung are alleged to have put $24 million into sham bond investments in order to conceal funds channelled to further the music career of Kong’s pop singer-wife Ho Yeow Sun.
Another $26.6 million of church money was then said to have been misappropriated to cover up the initial sum.
The six were suspended on the day of their arrest, along with Ms Ho, Mr Kelvin Teo Meng How and Ms Jacqueline Tan Su Pheng.
The commissioner’s office then said its inquiry had revealed “misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of the charity”.
This was “particularly in relation to the funds that were in the Building Fund which had been raised and earmarked for specific purposes”.
It added that it would “consider taking further courses of action under the Charities Act against these individuals in order to protect the charitable property of the Charity”.
The commissioner’s office is understood to have completed the first stage of its independent inquiry into the church’s finances.
Under Section 25 of the Charities Act, it can suspend any “trustee, governing board member, officer, agent, or employee” of a charity once it has begun an inquiry.
But the suspensions cannot exceed 12 months, which is why it is understood to have asked that they be voluntarily extended until six months after the end of the trial.
If they do not agree, it will have to proceed with the next stage of its inquiry – meaning, removing them from their posts permanently.
The Sunday Times understands that some of the nine were unwilling to agree to the extension, as they had been previously employed by the church and wanted their jobs back.
A source close to them told The Sunday Times that they felt that they had “no right to defence”, as many of the issues raised by the commissioner’s office are not part of the charges brought against the six accused.
“So these issues will not be heard at the trial, and there will be no opportunity to challenge the correctness of the Commissioner of Charities’ judgment,” said the long-time church member.
He added that the nine would have little chance of getting their positions back after the trial, as the court is not likely to rule on many of the issues involving them.
This means the commissioner’s office has “effectively given its final verdict through the removal process”.
So far, the deadline for the nine to give their written consent is understood to have been extended twice.
The case is expected to go to trial at the end of April, with the first tranche of hearings likely to last approximately four weeks, and the second expected to go on for another four weeks from the end of August.
The trial date may still be affected by an application for a Queen’s Counsel filed by Chew last month.
A full-day hearing is scheduled for March4.
Chew had originally hired law firm Rajah and Tann, but it was discharged from representing him in court in October, as it was one of the companies involving in drawing up the original documents for bond investments involved in the case.
The other five defendants from the 23,000-strong church are being represented by Senior Counsel – the Singaporean equivalent of Queen’s Counsel.
The commissioner’s office declined to comment when contacted.