MonthApril 2017

City Harvest appeal verdict: Six church leaders get reduced jail terms, Kong Hee gets 3½ years

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/courts-crime/city-harvest-appeal-verdict-six-church-leaders-get-reduced-jail-terms-kong
 
UPDATED

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.

City Harvest appeal: Kong Hee’s sentence reduced to 3.5 years

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/city-harvest-appeal-kong-hee-s-sentence-reduced-to-3-years-and-6/3659450.html?cid=twtcna

By

  • Posted 07 Apr 2017 09:59
  • Updated 07 Apr 2017 10:24

(Clockwise from top left): Tan Ye Peng, Kong Hee, John Lam, Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan and Serina Wee. (Photo: Ngau Kai Yan)

SINGAPORE: City Harvest Church founder and senior pastor Kong Hee has had his prison sentence reduced to three years and six months from eight years, while the other five leaders also had their sentences reduced. 

The six were in court on Friday (Apr 7) to hear the outcome of their appeal against both their conviction and sentences after being found guilty in October 2015 of misappropriating about S$50 million of church funds.

Former fund manager Chew Eng Han had his six-year sentence lowered to three years and fourth months, while deputy pastor Tan Ye Peng had his original five-and-a-half-year sentence cut to three years and two months. 

Former finance manager Serina Wee Gek Yin’s original five-year sentence was halved to two years and six months, and former finance committee member John Lam Leng Hung’s three-year sentence was similarly halved to one year and six months. 

Former finance manager Sharon Tan Shao Yuen had her 21-month jail sentence lowered to seven months. 

Friday’s hearing was the culmination of a five-day appeal heard in September last year by a three-judge panel, including Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn.

After the revised sentences were announced, Kong, Lam, Chew, Tan and Wee all asked for their sentences to commence after two weeks, and the court agreed.

Sharon Tan had asked to defer the start of her sentence by two months, as her family is relocating overseas in June and she wants to help her children adjust to the move. The court agreed to this, too. 

UNPRECEDENTED CASE

The City Harvest case is unprecedented. The S$50 million taken from the mega-church’s coffers is the largest amount of charity funds ever misappropriated in Singapore.

The money was used to bankroll the secular music career of the pastor’s wife Sun Ho, without the knowledge of the congregation which is made up of tens of thousands of worshippers who had donated the millions of dollars to the church.

The case is unprecedented also because the millions were “replaced” through a series of sham investments and shady transactions, and the church ultimately suffered no financial loss.

“If this is the largest amount going out the door, it is also unprecedented in that it is the largest amount coming back,” Kong’s lawyer Jason Chan had said. 

Still, the actions of Kong and the five co-accused were criminal – they effectively took City Harvest Church’s funds into their own hands to use as they pleased, despite them being plainly not authorised to do so, a judge had said.

Although the congregation largely supported Sun Ho’s secular music career – through the church’s Crossover Project which aimed to use her music to evangelise – they had no idea that they were footing the bill.

A total of S$24 million of church funds diverted into sham investments was used to bankroll Ms Ho’s budding career and extravagant lifestyle. Another S$26 million of church funds was used to cover up the first amount to fool auditors and to conceal the fact that money from the church’s building fund – a restricted fund set aside for building-related expenses – had been used for an unauthorised purpose.