City Harvest trial

Church 'suffered no wrongful loss'

(From left) Tan Ye Peng, Serina Wee and Chew Eng Han are among the six accused of misappropriating $24 million in CHC building funds and misusing $26 million to cover it up. The 140-day trial closed yesterday.
Tan Ye Peng (above), Serina Wee and Chew Eng Han are among the six accused of misappropriating $24 million in CHC building funds and misusing $26 million to cover it up. The 140-day trial closed yesterday.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW
Tan Ye Peng, Serina Wee (above) and Chew Eng Han are among the six accused of misappropriating $24 million in CHC building funds and misusing $26 million to cover it up. The 140-day trial closed yesterday.
Tan Ye Peng, Serina Wee (above) and Chew Eng Han are among the six accused of misappropriating $24 million in CHC building funds and misusing $26 million to cover it up. The 140-day trial closed yesterday. ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW
Tan Ye Peng, Serina Wee and Chew Eng Han (above) are among the six accused of misappropriating $24 million in CHC building funds and misusing $26 million to cover it up. The 140-day trial closed yesterday.
Tan Ye Peng, Serina Wee and Chew Eng Han (above) are among the six accused of misappropriating $24 million in CHC building funds and misusing $26 million to cover it up. The 140-day trial closed yesterday. ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW

Four accused say they were entitled to invest church funds in music career of pastor's wife

The long-running City Harvest trial closed yesterday, with four of the accused stressing that there was no wrongful loss suffered by City Harvest Church (CHC).

They said they were entitled legally to invest church funds in the music career of the pastor's wife as it was a church objective.

This was their stand as lawyers on both sides wrapped up their closing submissions on the 140th day of the trial. A verdict will be delivered on Oct 21 by Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon.

Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, acting for 42-year-old deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, said it was "crystal clear" to church auditors and lawyers that money from CHC's building fund was invested in pop singer Ho Yeow Sun's music career.

"The money that went out came back to the church, with interest," he said, adding that evidence showed the church was allowed to invest in Ms Ho's career.

But whether this investment was an authorised use of the building fund, is a point disputed by the prosecution. Ms Ho is the wife of senior pastor Kong Hee, 51.

Kong, Tan and four others are accused of misappropriating $24 million in CHC's building funds through sham bond investments in music production firm Xtron and glass maker Firna, and of misusing a further $26 million to cover it up.

The four others are former finance managers Serina Wee, 38, and Sharon Tan, 39, and former investment committee members Chew Eng Han, 55, and John Lam, 47. The bonds were used to bankroll Ms Ho's music career. CHC wanted to use her music to spread the Gospel through what it called the Crossover Project.

Wee's lawyer, Senior Counsel Andre Maniam, said it was "very significant" that the prosecution did not dispute that the Crossover Project was in line with church objectives.

"The prosecution says that we are like Robin Hood, trying to justify robbing the rich to give to the poor... Here, it was church funds being used to further church objectives, not taking money from rich to give to poor," said Mr Maniam.

Chew, representing himself, said the funds were invested in Xtron and Firna - which had legal obligations to return the money. But the recoverability of the bonds was based on projections of Ms Ho's unreleased US album - for which his fellow co-accused had to rely on Kong . "For the obvious reason that the one that has the most knowledge and the one that's managing it is Kong Hee himself," said Chew.

He also hit back at the prosecution, who called his evidence incoherent on Monday.

Chew, who has three decades of experience in finance, said: "Just because the prosecution cannot understand my explanation, doesn't mean I've contradicted myself between my evidence-in-chief and submissions. I think they had better go and take some courses in financial markets before they throw insults at me."

Meanwhile, Sharon Tan's lawyer Paul Seah reiterated that his client was "merely a worker taking instructions and carrying them out".

The lawyers for Kong and Lam responded on Monday.

Rounding up the submissions, Deputy Public Prosecutor Mavis Chionh called into question the defence's argument that the accused had acted in good faith.

She asked the court to consider their actions over the years - such as when Kong told CHC executive members in 2007 that the building fund was to be invested to preserve its value, while at the same time, he planned to spend $13 million from it on Ms Ho's music career.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2015, with the headline 'Church 'suffered no wrongful loss' City Harvest trial'. Print Edition | Subscribe