CITY HARVEST TRIAL

Court case 'may extend past 2013'

Prosecutor says third leg of hearing may be held next year

THE trial against the six City Harvest Church leaders accused of embezzling more than $50 million may stretch beyond 2013.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong told The Straits Times yesterday that provisions are being made for a third leg of the hearing, likely to be early next year.

Last month, the church's founding pastor Kong Hee rallied his congregation during church services, telling them that "everything should be all over" by next year.

He also assured them: "You've been holding on for three years. One more year. One more year and it will be all over."

The first leg of the trial begins on Wednesday, with its second scheduled from August to September this year.

Yesterday, DPP Ong revealed that the prosecution has about 10 key witnesses and another nine potential witnesses on its list.

One of the first to take the stand will be Ms Lai Baoting, a former assistant accountant of the church. She has been named in several of the charges as the one who was allegedly instructed by church leaders to record false entries in the church's accounts.

Other witnesses for the first leg of the trial include Ms Angie Koh, an employee of an external firm that handles the church's accounts, and Mr Koh Siow Ngea, director of Xtron Productions.

Xtron was the artist management firm for Kong Hee's wife Ho Yeow Sun - which allegedly had millions in church funds siphoned into it. Mr Koh is said to be a member of the church.

DPP Ong said Ms Ho is not on the prosecution's witness list, and it remains to be seen if she will be called as a defence witness.

The defence lawyers said their list of witnesses has not been confirmed yet.

The prosecution's other witnesses may also include officers from the Commercial Affairs Department who handled the probe.

The prosecution consists of six DPPs. The team is led by the chief prosecutor of the Economic Crimes and Governance Division Mavis Chionh, senior director in the same division Tan Kiat Pheng and director Christopher Ong, also of that division.

The six church leaders will be represented by senior counsel, except for Kong who has engaged lawyer Edwin Tong.

The six leaders are alleged to have funnelled $24 million into sham bond investments to further the music career of Ms Ho. They are also said to have misappropriated another $26.6 million to cover up the first sum.

In preparation for this trial on Wednesday, and the coroner's inquiry next week into the death of American researcher Shane Todd, parasols have been set up near the steps leading towards the Subordinate Courts.

The Straits Times understands this is in anticipation of a big crowd for these cases.

brynasim@sph.com.sg