Chew Eng Han: 'It seems like I've got so many enemies'

In an interview with The Sunday Times before he was found guilty, Chew Eng Han insisted that the bonds he devised were legitimate. Instead, the Crossover Project was the sham, he said.
In an interview with The Sunday Times before he was found guilty, Chew Eng Han insisted that the bonds he devised were legitimate. Instead, the Crossover Project was the sham, he said.ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN

Chew Eng Han has been called many things. A traitor for breaking with City Harvest Church (CHC) and exposing its inner circle in court. Others call him courageous.

By his own admission, the 55-year-old investment manager is just a tired man.

"It seems like I've got so many enemies," he told The Sunday Times. "So many battles, I've got to fight so many people."

His fund management business has gone belly up. He is being sued for $21 million in unreturned investments by CHC. And the 142-day corruption trial ended on Friday with him and five other former and current church leaders sentenced to prison.

Chew now faces six years in jail.

 

The only one who received a longer sentence - eight years - was Kong Hee, the church's 51-year-old founding pastor. Last month, the six were convicted of misusing $24 million in church funds to bankroll the secular music career of Kong's wife, singer-pastor Ho Yeow Sun. A further $26 million was later used to cover up their tracks.

 

Judge See Kee Oon made it clear Chew shouldered a lot of the blame alongside Kong. In his written judgment, he called them "kindred spirits" who "fuelled each other's drive, one as a spiritual leader and the other as a finance expert".

On Friday, the judge said Chew's role as the church's investment manager meant several of the other accused relied on his opinion.

Chew was, after all, responsible for devising the bonds - which the court has declared as sham - through which the church's money was funnelled to the Crossover Project, which aimed to use Ms Ho's pop music to evangelise to the unchurched.

But Chew continues to insist that the bonds were legitimate. Instead, Crossover was the sham, he said pointedly during the interview, which took place before he was found guilty.

"We expected to make money from (Sun Ho's albums), and Sun was meant to get souls saved; this was the best thing the church would ever do. But, as it turns out, the album was a sham. The Crossover was a sham. The bond was a good bond - what went on behind the scene made it look like a sham."

The Crossover Project started in 2002, said Chew, seven years after he joined CHC. "Kong Hee said Sun Ho was making inroads among youth through her concerts."

Kong told the church God gave him the vision for the project, and it was a sacred mission, said Chew, one he initially believed in.

"I thought we were shaking Christians out from their slumber."

In 2003, church member Roland Poon went public with accusations that donations meant for CHC's building fund were being misused to fuel Ms Ho's music career.

And this, said Chew, prompted Kong to decide to distance the church from his wife's music career, at least on paper. And he had the church's backing, added Chew.

"Not everything done in secrecy is a conspiracy," he said, pointing out that members were told at church of the thousands of souls being saved at Ms Ho's concerts. To him, CHC seemed "so different from other churches, always at the forefront of new things".

Even when Ms Ho started raising eyebrows by gyrating in skimpy clothing in her music videos, Chew believed in the mission. "Deep inside, I was a bit uncomfortable, but I didn't express this because of my loyalty to Kong Hee and Sun."

That belief started to falter when he and 16 others from the church were questioned by the Commercial Affairs Department in 2010. He managed a glance at Kong while the latter was inside an interview room. The pastor met his eyes, then looked down. Later, in a meeting with the church's lawyer, Chew described how Kong kept silent, in stark contrast to how he reacted to the Poon incident seven years earlier. Kong had gone on the offensive then, announcing to the church that "not a single cent" was used to promote Ms Ho's pop career.

A report by the Commissioner of Charities (COC) later revealed that between December 2007 and May 2010, at least $2.1 million of church funds had been channelled through an affiliate church in Kuala Lumpur to Crossover.

The report also said church donations were transferred to a private fund, called the multi-purpose account. Through this account, money would be transferred to Kong - around $600,000 allegedly went to him this way.

Chew claimed in court that Kong was more interested in personal gain than the church.

He told The Sunday Times he had confronted Kong about the COC report in a private meeting in March 2013. "Several times... Kong said, 'Let's forget about everything that we are talking about. I just want to know are we good or not... Are you still on my side or not?' "

But Chew urged Kong to talk to CHC's board and executive members - to "just apologise and repent". When Kong did not, Chew quit the church after being a member for 17 years. Chew added that he bears "no grudge in my heart". But he hopes his departure would send a signal to other members and get them to think about the church more critically.

These days, strangers do come up to him to wish him well. One even paid for his meal at a Japanese restaurant and left him two Bible verses for encouragement.

"They actually thank me for having the courage to speak up," said Chew, who intends to write a book about his experience "once this is over". "It will make a good movie," he added with a smile. But it may be a while before the saga is over.

On Friday, he told the court that he will appeal against both the guilty verdict and his sentence.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2015, with the headline ''It seems like I've got so many enemies''. Print Edition | Subscribe