E-mail with :) under the spotlight

City Harvest Church's Chew Eng Han arriving at the State Courts on Aug 25, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
City Harvest Church's Chew Eng Han arriving at the State Courts on Aug 25, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Emoticon would not be sent if there was a conspiracy, says accused

A smiley face emoticon which one accused e-mailed another came under the spotlight in the City Harvest Church trial yesterday.

Former church fund manager Chew Eng Han said the icon, which was sent to him by church finance manager Sharon Tan, showed that he and his alleged co-conspirators did not believe they were doing anything illegal.

"Sharon, you and I have been charged for conspiring to defraud the auditors," Chew told Tan, who turns 39 today.

"If we were really conspiring, would you put a smiley face (in the e-mail), unless you are a seasoned conspirator?"

Tan, who had inserted the icon at the end of a series of e-mail messages discussing what to tell church auditors about various church-financed investments, replied: "No."

Tan, Chew, church founder Kong Hee and three others face charges for their part in allegedly misusing some $50 million of church funds for the secular music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, and then covering it up.

Chew, who is representing himself, yesterday used his chance to cross-examine Tan to refute the prosecution's allegation that his fund management firm AMAC Capital Partners was nothing more than a shell set up to funnel church funds illegally into Ms Ho's career.

AMAC had helped the church buy $13 million worth of bonds issued by Xtron, the company that managed Ms Ho's singing career. The bonds, allege the prosecution, were "sham".

In one e-mail, Chew instructed Tan to keep details of various AMAC investments financed by the church from auditors, since there was no legal obligation to disclose the information.

He told the court yesterday that he did so because "some of the loans that were made to shareholders of listed companies were sensitive information".

"We were not trying to make the job difficult for the auditor," he said.

He also pointed out how AMAC, through investments unrelated to Xtron, had also made "serious money" for the church, with one deal reaping $703,500.

Tan simply nodded or said yes to most of Chew's assertions, a stark contrast to her demeanour earlier in the day.

Having broken down on Wednesday as the day's hearing drew to a close, she was again in tears yesterday when describing her long relationship with the church, which she insisted precluded her from doing anything to harm the organisation.

She told the court how she had joined City Harvest when she was 15, then worked there for more than a decade and married a cell group leader. Now, her three children are members.

"This is my first and only church. Everything that is me right now I learnt from this church," she cried. "I never had the intention to cause any loss to the church. Never."

zengkun@sph.com.sg