All 6 City Harvest Church leaders get reduced jail terms: 5 things about the case

Clockwise from top left: Kong Hee, Tan Ye Peng, Serina Wee, John Lam, Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan.
Clockwise from top left: Kong Hee, Tan Ye Peng, Serina Wee, John Lam, Chew Eng Han, Sharon Tan.PHOTOS: ST FILE

This article was first published on Sept 14, 2016, and updated on April 7, 2017

SINGAPORE - The marathon City Harvest Church (CHC) trial ended on Friday (April 7), with all six church leaders convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds receiving reduced sentences. 

The outcome of the appeals by the six, including CHC founder and senior pastor Kong Hee, and the prosecution, were delivered on Friday morning.  The court, in a split decision, allowed their appeals against conviction and found them guilty of a less serious charge of criminal breach of trust.

The judges said the situation involved no personal gain on the appellants' part. "None of the appellants could be said to have benefited, and their fault lies in adopting the wrong means," said the judges.

The appellants believed that their acts, especially in sham investments, would advance the interest of the church, and accepted that the Crossover project was genuinely endorsed by the church, "even if it was not 100 per cent".

The church leaders reacted to the court's decision with a range of reactions from acceptance, sadness, to disappointment.

CHC released a statement on their website saying that while it was "deeply saddened by this decision (of conviction), we thank God for the shorter sentences".

Kong said on social media that he was grateful that his sentence had been reduced, even though "the conviction being upheld is not what I have hoped for".

Here's a recap of Singapore's largest charity financial scandal. 

1. Who are the six church leaders?

Six church leaders were found guilty in October 2015 of misusing around $50 million in church funds. All six were handed jail terms of between 21 months and eight years in November.

Kong Hee, 52, CHC founder

Convicted of: Three charges of criminal breach of trust

Original sentence: Eight years

Reduced sentence: Three years six months

Chew Eng Han, 56, former CHC fund manager

Convicted of: Six charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsification of accounts

Original sentence: Six years

Reduced sentence: Three years and four months

Tan Ye Peng, 43 , founding member and deputy senior pastor

Convicted of: Six charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsification of accounts

Original sentence: Five and a half years

Reduced sentence: Three years and two months

Serina Wee, 39, former CHC finance manager

Convicted of: Six charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsification of accounts

Original sentence: Five years

Reduced sentence: Two years and six months

John Lam, 47, former CHC finance committee member

Convicted of: Three charges of criminal breach of trust

Original sentence: Three years

Reduced sentence: A year and six months

Sharon Tan, 40, former CHC finance manager who took over from Wee

Convicted of: Three charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsification of accounts

Original sentence: 21 months

Reduced sentence: Seven months

2. What did they do?

They were convicted of misusing church funds, in a project called Crossover, to further the music career of pastor-singer Ho Yeow Sun, the wife of Kong.

This was done by funnelling $24 million into sham bonds to bankroll Ms Ho's career. The accused then misused a further $26 million to cover their tracks.

3. How did it work?

The Crossover project was conceived by Kong as a way of spreading his church's message through popular culture.

 

The project was initially funded directly by the church, but in 2003 church member Roland Poon alleged that the church's building fund had been used to finance Ms Ho's music career. Mr Poon later retracted the allegations and apologised.

Music production company Xtron was then set up to manage Ms Ho. It had its own directors, but it was allegedly Kong alone who made decisions regarding his wife's music career and how much to spend.

When auditors raised concerns about Xtron, funds began to be directed to another company - glass manufacturer Firnas.

A total of $24 million was invested in bonds from Xtron and Firnas that were in fact used to fund the Crossover Project, the court found.

Another $26 million from church funds were later used to offset the bonds.

4. What is the prosecution calling for?

The prosecution had called for stiffer sentences than those passed.

They are appealing for sentences ranging from five to 12 years for the six.

Lawyers said that this move by the prosecution forced the defence to submit appeals for lighter sentences.

5. How long was the trial?

Criminal investigation into the case began in 2010.

The trial stretched over 142 days, from its start in 2013 to sentencing in November 2015. It is one of the longest criminal cases in history, beaten only by a drug trafficking case in the 1990s that went on for 168 days.

The case is also likely to be the costliest criminal trial here. Legal fees for the six church leaders could exceed $10 million, said lawyers.