CITY HARVEST CASE

Queen's Counsel 'not needed'

PUBLIC prosecutors, the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) and the Law Society strongly objected in court yesterday to Chew Eng Han's application for an elite British lawyer to defend him.

The 52-year-old City Harvest Church (CHC) member wants to fight the case with the help of a Queen's Counsel (QC).

Opposing parties argued that the case was straightforward and did not require a QC's services. They also felt that Chew made insufficient efforts to engage suitable local counsel.

QCs are admitted here when the case is complex, involves novel points of the law, and no local legal experts are available.

Justice V. K. Rajah, who will deliver his judgment on the application at noon today, played an active role throughout yesterday's proceedings. When the hearing began, he asked Chew's lawyer P.E. Ashokan if QC Jonathan Caplan - whom Chew was looking to hire - had the "required expertise" in local statutes and trial process, noting that he was last here "a few decades ago".

He told Mr Ashokan that the onus was on him to prove that Chew's case involved "complex issues", as he considered it a "simple one". AGC lawyer Aurill Kam also argued that while the case involved more than 8,000 documents, it was not to be confused with a sign of complexity.

Chew is one of six CHC leaders charged last June with conspiring to cheat the church by funnelling $24 million into sham investments to further the career of senior pastor Kong Hee's pop-singer wife, and misappropriating another $26.6 million to cover up the misuse of the first sum.

Mr Ashokan argued that Chew was "not directly involved", and the use of the money ultimately met the church's aim of spreading its religion. But Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong argued that Chew was an "inextricable part" of the process.

Mr Ashokan sought to show that Chew made a "conscientious effort" to hire a local Senior Counsel (SC) but was unsuccessful. He said that of the 70 SCs here, 54 were "unavailable", leaving only 16 whom Chew did not call.

But Law Society representative Christopher Daniel and Ms Kam refuted this, saying Chew should have called non-SCs as well.

brynasim@sph.com.sg