City Harvest trial: Hugs all round as auditor ends time on the stand

For the eight days Mr Foong Daw Ching (above) was on the stand, lawyers for the accused in the City Harvest Church trial were relentless in trying to tear down the auditor's testimony, claiming he was interested only in saving his own skin. -- ST FIL
For the eight days Mr Foong Daw Ching (above) was on the stand, lawyers for the accused in the City Harvest Church trial were relentless in trying to tear down the auditor's testimony, claiming he was interested only in saving his own skin. -- ST FILE PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

DPP: Accused held back information when seeking advice from Foong

For the eight days Mr Foong Daw Ching was on the stand, lawyers for the accused in the City Harvest Church (CHC) trial were relentless in trying to tear down the auditor's testimony, claiming he was interested only in saving his own skin.

But yesterday it all ended in smiles, when Mr Foong hugged several of the accused.

"No hard feelings," the 63-year-old auditor told church founder Kong Hee as they embraced after the trial was adjourned to January.

Yesterday saw the state shoot down key assertions made by the defence about Mr Foong's role in sham investments which the church allegedly made using its building funds to finance the music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun.

Throughout this trial, Mr Foong has maintained that he gave the church only "general" advice on investments.

But defence lawyers claim that the six accused had "in good faith" relied upon him to provide professional guidance as he was a respected auditor at accounting firm Baker Tilly TFW.

They added that he should have given "complete advice" when they met him. The lawyers even likened the meetings to consultations with a doctor.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Mavis Chionh asked: "Do you think the doctor can give complete advice if the patient doesn't tell him all the symptoms?"

She tried to show that the accused had given an incomplete picture to Mr Foong when they sought his advice in July 2008 on investing more of the church's money into Xtron Productions, which was managing Ms Ho's music career at the time.

That month, one of the accused, then church accountant Serina Wee, had told CHC leaders that Xtron would soon face a cashflow shortage and needed another $18 million on top of the $13 million the church had already invested.

But this information was missing in an e-mail with detailed questions about the new investment that she sent to Mr Foong a few weeks earlier.

DPP Chionh also tried to cut down the defence's argument that church leaders relied heavily on Mr Foong's advice.

She showed that as of July 2008, the church had a lawyer called Mr Jimmy Yim, whom Kong wanted to go through the church's financial transactions.

DPP Chionh pointed out that two of the accused, Tan Ye Peng and John Lam, would also have had sufficient auditing know-how as they had sat on the church's auditing committee, with Tan serving as chairman at one time.

The prosecutor also questioned Mr Foong for agreeing with the defence that the Crossover Project, aimed at evangelising through Ms Ho's secular music, could have some of its expenses paid by the church since it could be considered a church mission.

When DPP Chionh asked if Crossover Project expenses could be paid from the church's building fund, he replied: "You can't because the building fund is meant especially for building, so any Crossover expenses will have to be paid out of a general fund."

At the end of the day, Mr Foong got up, thanked all who were in court, then turned to the dock where the six accused sat.

Despite being portrayed by the defence as an older brother who "broke the hearts" of church leaders with his denials in court, he said: "Thank you also to my friends sitting over there."

twong@sph.com.sg