CITY HARVEST CASE

Senior counsel appointed for church leader's trial

IT TOOK City Harvest Church member Chew Eng Han just three days to have a Senior Counsel (SC) appointed for his high- profile trial into the alleged misuse of millions of dollars of church funds.

SC Michael Khoo was officially designated as Chew's lawyer yesterday. "I am happy and very upbeat," the 52-year-old defendant told The Straits Times.

On Tuesday, he had been disconsolate and seemed at a loss after his application to engage a Queen's Counsel (QC) - an elite British lawyer - was rejected by Justice V. K. Rajah.

Interestingly, the judge had asked during the QC application why Chew had not approached Mr Khoo. Later in the day, Chew met him, on the recommendation of his former lawyer P. E. Ashokan, who had represented Chew in the QC application.

Chew said he was "very comfortable" with the lawyer from Michael Khoo & Partners, who also seemed "very keen" to take on his case.

But there was one hitch. Mr Khoo had another case to handle in May, when the City Harvest Church (CHC) trial is set to begin.

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. They then allegedly misappropriated another $26.6 million to cover up the misuse of the first sum.

The issue of dates was resolved during a pre-trial conference yesterday, when both sides agreed to push the start of trial from May 6 to May 15.

This first part of the trial is expected to last until May 23.

Chew had hoped for the trial to begin only after May 20, but was nevertheless glad for the "kind accommodation" of the public prosecutors in changing the dates.

brynasim@sph.com.sg