City Harvest case: Request to delay trial denied

SIX City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders accused of embezzling more than $50 million from their parish had a request to push back the start of their trial denied yesterday.

The highly anticipated hearing will go ahead as planned on May 15 and be presided over by Senior District Judge See Kee Onn.

At yesterday's pre-trial conference, District Judge Victor Yeo turned down the defence lawyers' request, having considered that the prosecution registered a strong objection to another delay.

Both sides declined to comment on why the defence had applied for the postponement.

The start date of the trial was already pushed back at a pre-trial conference last month, when both sides agreed to switch it from May 6 to May 15. This was because the church's former investment manager Chew Eng Han had only then secured representation by Senior Counsel (SC) Michael Khoo, after his application to engage a Queen's Counsel - an elite British lawyer - was rejected earlier in March, and Mr Khoo has another case to handle in May.

The Straits Times understands the prosecution passed documents to defence lawyers on Dec15 last year to facilitate preparation of an agreed statement of facts for the trial so it can be focused on the legal dispute.

The five other CHC leaders and co-defendants secured representation by other SCs last year, apart from senior pastor Kong Hee, who engaged MP Edwin Tong.

The six are charged with conspiring to cheat the church by funnelling $24 million into sham investments to further the career of Kong's pop-singer wife. They then allegedly misappropriated another $26.6 million to cover up the misuse of the first sum.

yanliang@sph.com.sg