City Harvest trial

'Purpose was to spread Gospel'

They said they did not profit from their crimes, caused no loss to the church, and that members of the congregation were still behind them.

Everything they did, they said, had one overriding purpose - to spread the Gospel.

Yesterday,the six City Harvest leaders convicted of misusing $50 million in church funds, in front of a packed courtroom, urged Presiding Judge See Kee Oon to consider these mitigating factors.

However, Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong asked: "How much weight can a claim to have been a good shepherd be given if the person was also a wolf at the same time?"

He said the leaders did not stop at encouraging trust and faith, but also "suppressed dissent" when forcing church member Roland Poon to apologise when he first made allegations about the misuse of funds in 2003.

A stiff sentence would be necessary to deliver a strong message: that any misuse of charity funds will be dealt with severely, the prosecution said.

The case, which involved the largest amount of charity funds ever misappropriated in Singapore's legal history, has shaken public confidence in the charity sector, said Mr Ong.

He said: "It must be made clear that those leading charities, entrusted with the funds, must adhere to the highest standards of integrity and transparency.

"We would descend into chaos if the misuse of charity funds can simply be whitewashed away as mere trifling missteps or understandable overzealousness based on the alleged personal motives."

Earlier, lawyers for five of the six leaders argued against lengthy jail sentences.

Kong Hee's lawyer Edwin Tong said the Crossover Project, central to the church's evangelism, was supported by members who were not "victims of the betrayals of trust", as the prosecution had argued.

He was "not an innately bad person" and had always acted in the best interest of the church.

Mr Tong also said the trial had taken a toll on Kong and his family, including his elderly parents, his two deaf and mute siblings, and his son, aged 10.

John Lam's lawyer Kenneth Tan described his client as "simply a volunteer in the church". Lam's greatest failure, he said, was putting too much trust in his spiritual leaders, such as Kong.

Sharon Tan's lawyer Paul Seah said she did not play a leading role. Similarly, Serina Wee's lawyer Andre Maniam said she was a mere "follower". Tan Ye Peng's lawyer N. Sreenivasan said Tan helped many church members with their problems. Chew, who is representing himself, also said his motive was to do good.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2015, with the headline ''Purpose was to spread Gospel''. Print Edition | Subscribe