SINGAPORE - Was the City Harvest Church (CHC) project to evangelise through the pop music of Ms Ho Yeow Sun a church purpose, or one that CHC leaders had foisted upon the congregation?
Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong asked the High Court this on Wednesday (Sept 21) in the ongoing appeal of the six CHC leaders at the centre of a multi-million dollar financial scandal.
In October last year, the six CHC leaders were convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of Ms Ho, the wife of CHC senior pastor Kong Hee, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.
The court found that they had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds from music production company Xtron and glass-maker Firna, but this money was, in fact, used to fund the Crossover Project.
Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.
The six, including Kong, are appealing against their convictions and sentences, while the prosecution is also appealing - for longer sentences.
The lower court had found that the Crossover Project was "indisputably a church purpose", but DPP Ong pointed out that it was the six CHC leaders who determined what was in the church's interests and has silenced dissenting points of view.
"What this calls into question is whether they can really say they were pursuing CHC's objectives or they were really pursuing a mandate that they had created and then foisted upon CHC," said DPP Ong.
Rebutting the point made by the six that the Crossover Project was supported by the majority of church members, DPP Ong said the support for the Crossover Project must be viewed in the context of what members were told about the project.
"They were not told who would be footing the bill," said DPP Ong.
He pointed out that the offenders had not shown remorse - which ordinarily could be a mitigating factor.
"Restitution amounts to saying 'I am sorry', and this is not something we have heard from the offenders in this case," he said.
"What we submit is, this is not a case of altruistic individuals who nobly set out to fulfil the goals of CHC."
The prosecution asked for much harsher sentences - jail terms of 11 to 12 years jail for Kong, CHC deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han and former CHC finance manager Serina Wee; eight to nine years for former CHC finance committee member John Lam; and five to six years for former CHC finance manager Sharon Tan.
The lower court handed out much lower terms in part because it found that the six had not been motivated by personal gain, and the church had not suffered any wrongful loss.
The six were given jail terms of between 21 months and eight years, with Kong facing the longest term.
The appeal, which ended at about 5.30pm, was heard by Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn.
"We can only promise you a judgment asap," said Judge Chao, who added that the trial's record was voluminous.
More on the appeal: