32 MIN AGO
2 MIN AGO
SINGAPORE – A three-judge panel meted out reduced jail sentences for six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders on convictions of criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts on Friday morning (April 7).
Church founder Kong Hee will have to spend 3½ years behind bars, in the high-profile case involving the misuse of millions in church money to fund the pop music career of his wife.
He had originally been handed an eight-year jail term in November 2015. His wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, whose racy music videos and lavish lifestyle had attracted controversy, did not come to court with him on Friday.
Kong, 52, together with five other church leaders, were found guilty in 2015 of varying charges of criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts, after a marathon 142-day trial that started in 2013.
The other five are deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44; former CHC finance managers Serina Wee, 40, and Sharon Tan, 41; former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 49; and former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56.
Like Kong, all five had their jail terms reduced after the court, in a split decision, allowed their appeals against conviction and found them guilty of a less serious charge of criminal breach of trust.
Tan Ye Peng originally got 5½ years’ jail. He now has to serve three years and two months.
Chew originally got six years. He now has to serve three years and four months.
Wee originally got five years. She now has to serve 2½ years.
Lam originally received three years. He now has to serve 1½ years.
Sharon Tan originally received 21 months. She now has to serve seven months.
All six have requested for deferment before they start their jail terms.
They 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, a church mission to evangelise through the music of Ms Ho.
Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the sham bond investments.
Delivering their ruling, the judges said it is a situation which involved no personal gain on the appellants’ part. They believed that their acts, especially in sham investments, would advance the interest of the church. They accepted that the Crossover project was genuinely endorsed by the church, “even if it was not 100 per cent”.
“None of the appellants could be said to have benefited, and their fault lies in adopting the wrong means,” said the judges.
Kong, fingered as the key man behind the scandal, got the heaviest sentence.
The judges agreed that his overall culpability is the greatest and he provided the overall direction and moral assurance. He also instilled the confidence in the Crossover Project and his wife Sun Ho’s success in the US.
He was one of the main players if not the main player who set the direction in the sham charges, said the judges. His role as the spiritual leader and the breach of trust should be reflected in his sentence, they added.
His lawyer Edwin Tong told reporters: “He (Kong) has told me that he is disappointed with the outcome in terms of the conviction not being overturned.” But he appreciates that the judges said they were acting in the interest of the church, he added.
In November 2015, the six were handed jail terms ranging from 21 months to eight years in what prosecutors called the largest case of misuse of charitable funds in Singapore history.
The prosecution appealed for longer jail terms. The six also appealed, asking for their convictions to be overturned and for shorter jail terms.
The appeals were heard over five days in September last year.
On Friday, the court – Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn – delivered their verdict in a packed courtroom. Members of the public started queuing up to get a seat in the courtroom as early as 1am.