City Harvest appeal: Kong Hee acted in good faith, says lawyer

The six City Harvest Church leaders who were convicted of misappropriating church funds last year, are back in court to appeal against their sentences. On Sept 15 lawyers acting for City Harvest founder Kong Hee and John Lam, presented their appeals.
In the High Court yesterday were (from left) Ms Ho Yeow Sun and CHC leaders Kong Hee, John Lam, Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee. The prosecution is asking for longer sentences while the six CHC leaders are appealing against their
In the High Court yesterday were Ms Ho Yeow Sun and CHC leaders Kong Hee (above), John Lam, Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee. The prosecution is asking for longer sentences while the six CHC leaders are appealing against their conviction and sentences last October for misappropriating church funds to fuel the pop music career of Ms Ho in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW
In the High Court yesterday were (from left) Ms Ho Yeow Sun and CHC leaders Kong Hee, John Lam, Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee. The prosecution is asking for longer sentences while the six CHC leaders are appealing against their
In the High Court yesterday were Ms Ho Yeow Sun and CHC leaders Kong Hee, John Lam (above), Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee. The prosecution is asking for longer sentences while the six CHC leaders are appealing against their conviction and sentences last October for misappropriating church funds to fuel the pop music career of Ms Ho in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW
In the High Court yesterday were (from left) Ms Ho Yeow Sun and CHC leaders Kong Hee, John Lam, Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee. The prosecution is asking for longer sentences while the six CHC leaders are appealing against their
In the High Court yesterday were Ms Ho Yeow Sun and CHC leaders Kong Hee, John Lam, Chew Eng Han (above), Sharon Tan, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee. The prosecution is asking for longer sentences while the six CHC leaders are appealing against their conviction and sentences last October for misappropriating church funds to fuel the pop music career of Ms Ho in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW
In the High Court yesterday were (from left) Ms Ho Yeow Sun and CHC leaders Kong Hee, John Lam, Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee. The prosecution is asking for longer sentences while the six CHC leaders are appealing against their
In the High Court yesterday were Ms Ho Yeow Sun and CHC leaders Kong Hee, John Lam, Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan (above), Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee. The prosecution is asking for longer sentences while the six CHC leaders are appealing against their conviction and sentences last October for misappropriating church funds to fuel the pop music career of Ms Ho in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW
In the High Court yesterday were (from left) Ms Ho Yeow Sun and CHC leaders Kong Hee, John Lam, Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee. The prosecution is asking for longer sentences while the six CHC leaders are appealing against their
In the High Court yesterday were Ms Ho Yeow Sun and CHC leaders Kong Hee, John Lam, Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan, Tan Ye Peng (above) and Serina Wee. The prosecution is asking for longer sentences while the six CHC leaders are appealing against their conviction and sentences last October for misappropriating church funds to fuel the pop music career of Ms Ho in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW
In the High Court yesterday were (from left) Ms Ho Yeow Sun and CHC leaders Kong Hee, John Lam, Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee. The prosecution is asking for longer sentences while the six CHC leaders are appealing against their
In the High Court yesterday were Ms Ho Yeow Sun and CHC leaders Kong Hee, John Lam, Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee (above). The prosecution is asking for longer sentences while the six CHC leaders are appealing against their conviction and sentences last October for misappropriating church funds to fuel the pop music career of Ms Ho in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW

Even if City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee had put church funds to the wrong use, he did so in good faith and there was never any dishonesty behind it.

Moreover, he did not obtain a single cent for his own gain.

That was the case put forth yesterday by Kong's lawyer, Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, in arguing for overturning the pastor's three convictions for "dishonestly misappropriating" church money.

He also called Kong's eight-year jail sentence excessive.

Kong, 52, and five other CHC leaders at the centre of a long-running high-profile financial scandal involving $50 million in church funds are in the High Court for what could be the final stage of the legal process.

The prosecution, on its part, is asking for longer deterrent sentences.

 

In October last year, the six were convicted of misappropriating church funds to fuel the pop music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

The court found they had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds - money that was in fact used to fund the Crossover Project. Another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

Yesterday, in front of a packed public gallery of about 50 mostly church supporters, Kong and John Lam, 48, a former CHC finance committee member, presented their cases. The panel comprises Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn.

Addressing the court, Mr Tong said the lower court had wrongly conflated the "wrong use" of CHC's building fund with having a dishonest intention."The intention to put the funds to wrongful use is not the same as the intention to cause wrongful loss," said Mr Tong, adding that "dishonesty" is defined in the Penal Code as having the intention to cause wrongful gain to one person, or wrongful loss to another.

He said in this case, the bond proceeds were applied "in good faith" to CHC's advantage, going towards a project that had "almost the entirety of the church supporting it".

Mr Tong also reiterated Kong's defence that he had "almost religiously" consulted lawyers and auditors about the bond transactions.

"As far as Kong Hee is concerned, he does not have a shred of paper that said his colleagues were not to give anything but the true facts to the lawyers or auditors," he said.

The six CHC leaders arrived in good spirits yesterday. All of them - except former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, who is representing himself and was seated with the defence lawyers - were smiling and laughing in the dock before proceedings began.

Lam's lawyer, Senior Counsel Kenneth Tan, reiterated his client's defence that he had only limited involvement and knowledge in the bond transactions, agreeing at one point with Justice Woo, who had asked if Lam was an "innocent pawn" being used by the others. Lam faces three years in jail.

"We are saying John Lam was being used to facilitate the plan without knowing the full picture," said Mr Tan.

There was a moment of levity just before the morning session ended, when prosecutors requested a break for the transcriber, after Mr Tan spoke for 21/2 hours. Justice Chao quipped: "We can keep quiet and say silent prayers."

The appeal continues today, with Chew and former finance manager Sharon Tan presenting their cases.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2016, with the headline 'City Harvest appeal: Kong Hee acted in good faith, says lawyer'. Print Edition | Subscribe