City Harvest trial: Ex-board member Chew hits back at ex-board member Lam

SINGAPORE - The terse showdown between two former colleagues on the City Harvest Church board did not let up yesterday in court.

Chew Eng Han, who quit the church last year claiming he was betrayed and lied to, launched a tirade of questions that visibly upset former board member John Lam, who was taking the stand for the fourth day.

Both men are among six defendants accused of funnelling about $50 million of church building funds into two companies, including music production firm Xtron, to bankroll the secular pop music career of Ho Yeow Sun, the wife of church founder Kong Hee.

At times yesterday, Lam, 46, lost his cool, raising his voice and glaring at Chew, 54, who is representing himself. This was unlike the usually collected Lam, who addressed the judge in measured replies.

Chew, despite having no legal training, tried to methodically discredit Lam's earlier assertion that it was his idea to cook up the alleged sham deals that landed the six accused, including Kong, in court.

Lam had earlier testified how Chew had approached him on June 23, 2007 to say that he was quitting his job as a chief executive officer of financial service company State Street Bank, to start a boutique fund management firm.

Chew, he claimed, proposed that surplus church funds should be invested, and the money raised be used for the Crossover Project, which was meant to attract converts through Ms Ho's singing.

Lam said Chew also suggested the tie-up with Xtron, and that Indonesian tycoon and church devotee Wahju Hanafi had guaranteed he would indemnify all losses.

But Chew told the court "the meeting never happened". He produced travel documents yesterday showing that he was in Tokyo on June 23, 2007. Lam admitted he might have got the date wrong.

Chew said he founded his company, Amac Capital Partners, in April 2007. Further, with the board "optimistic" about Ms Ho - a "10-hit wonder" with five Mandarin albums and five US singles - there was no need for the personal guarantee by Mr Hanafi. He cited an e-mail to show that the Xtron bond idea originated from deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng. Lam disagreed.

In a heated exchange, Chew also questioned why Lam, as "an experienced board member who is also a CFA (Chartered Financial Analyst)", had not asked about the Xtron bonds which the church bought. "Don't you think you should have some sense of responsibility as a board member to inquire as to the trigger for this amount?"

Lam maintained his stance that Chew had "unfettered and complete" discretion in investments.

But Chew then cited Lam's statement to Commercial Affairs Department investigators in which he said that the church board was involved in evaluating the Xtron bonds.

Lam explained the discrepancy to the court by saying that he did not have the benefit of e-mail and documents at the time.

Later, Tan's lawyer N. Sreenivasan argued that his client was above board, and that the church has always had a huge risk appetite.

The trial is expected to continue today with the prosecution questioning Lam.