Longer jail terms sought for leaders of City Harvest

City Harvest Church founding pastor Kong Hee said he will appeal against both the guilty verdict and the length of his sentence. He was given eight years in jail. The prosecution had pressed for a term of 11 to 12 years.
City Harvest Church founding pastor Kong Hee said he will appeal against both the guilty verdict and the length of his sentence. He was given eight years in jail. The prosecution had pressed for a term of 11 to 12 years.ST FILE PHOTO

Prosecution says sentences are 'manifestly inadequate'; three of six to file own appeals

After a 142-day trial that ended with six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders jailed for fraud involving millions of dollars, lawyers on both sides are gearing up for another court battle.

Yesterday, the prosecution filed notices of appeal against the prison terms of all six, describing them as "manifestly inadequate".

In turn, three of those found guilty, including founding pastor Kong Hee, confirmed they too would submit their own appeals.

"Whilst I respect the court's decision, there are points which appear to be erroneous and warrant appeal," said Kong, who will appeal against both the guilty verdict and the length of his sentence, in a Facebook post yesterday evening.

He said the road ahead was "long and arduous" but asked church members to pray for a "favourable outcome".

GOING AHEAD WITH OWN APPEAL

Whilst I respect the court's decision, there are points which appear to be erroneous and warrant appeal.

CHC FOUNDER KONG HEE, on why he will be filing an appeal. He asked church members to pray for a favourable outcome, and thanked them for their love.

The 51-year-old was held by Judge See Kee Oon as the most culpable for the misuse of $50 million in church funds, almost half of which was spent on illegally funding the pop music career of his wife Ho Yeow Sun.

Judge See sentenced him to eight years in jail, the longest term among the six accused. The prosecution, however, had sought a term of 11 to 12 years.

In a statement yesterday, the Attorney-General's Chambers said: "The prosecution is of the view that the sentences imposed are manifestly inadequate, in all the circumstances of the case."

Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, who is representing deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 43, also confirmed yesterday that his client, who has to serve 51/2 years behind bars, is filing an appeal.

Former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 55, who was sentenced to six years in prison, had already indicated earlier that he was appealing against both his conviction and sentence.

  • What they got and the sentences sought

  • Kong Hee, 51

    City Harvest Church (CHC) founder and senior pastor

    Sentence: Eight years

    What the prosecution wanted: 11 to 12 years

    Chew Eng Han, 55

    Former CHC fund manager

    Sentence: Six years

    What the prosecution wanted: 11 to 12 years

    Tan Ye Peng, 43

    CHC deputy senior pastor Sentence: 51/2 years

    What the prosecution wanted: 11 to 12 years.

    Serina Wee, 38

    Former CHC finance manager Sentence: Five years

    What the prosecution wanted: 11 to 12 years

    John Lam, 47

    Former CHC finance committee member

    Sentence: Three years

    What the prosecution wanted: Eight to nine years

    Sharon Tan, 40

    Former CHC finance manager Sentence: 21 months

    What the prosecution wanted: Five to six years

When asked about the prosecution's decision to push for even longer jail terms, Chew told The Straits Times yesterday: "As I've said openly in court before, the prosecution has been very vicious."

The prosecution had urged the court to impose a sentence of 11 to 12 years in Chew's case.

Others found guilty are still in the midst of examining their options.

Mr Kenny Low, husband of former CHC finance manager Serina Wee, told The Straits Times it was still "too soon to comment". The 38-year-old Wee received a sentence of five years in jail.

Lawyer Paul Seah, who is defending former CHC finance manager Sharon Tan, 40, said: "We are discussing the developments with her and she will decide whether or not to appeal by next week."

She received 21 months in jail.

Former CHC finance committee member John Lam, who received a three-year sentence, did not respond to repeated calls and e-mail.

The prosecution had asked for much stiffer terms for each of them, citing several aggravating factors, and the need to deter similar crimes involving charity funds from happening in future.

But while Judge See agreed on the need for deterrence, he was mindful that it did not "simply entail the imposition of disproportionately crushing sentences".

The defence has up to next Friday to file a notice of appeal.

Other lawyers say the prosecution's move yesterday to push for longer sentences would likely force the defence to submit appeals of its own.

Veteran criminal lawyer Amolat Singh said: "They have no choice but to also put in their appeals, otherwise they might miss out on the chance of arguing whether there should be a lighter sentence."

But this legal battle should not be as long drawn out as the initial trial.

"We are probably looking at an appeal date within six months. The actual appeal will take one or two days," said criminal lawyer Sunil Sudheesan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 28, 2015, with the headline 'Longer jail terms sought for leaders of City Harvest'. Print Edition | Subscribe