Six not motivated by personal gain: Judges

Clockwise from top: Chew Eng Han; Kong Hee, flanked by lawyers Edwin Tong and Aaron Lee (far right); and Tan Ye Peng. In meting out the harshest sentence among the six church leaders to Kong, the judges agreed he was the "ultimate leader" of the five
Chew Eng Han leaving the court. In meting out the harshest sentence among the six church leaders to Kong, the judges agreed he was the "ultimate leader" of the five others.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG, DESMOND FOO
Clockwise from top: Chew Eng Han; Kong Hee, flanked by lawyers Edwin Tong and Aaron Lee (far right); and Tan Ye Peng. In meting out the harshest sentence among the six church leaders to Kong, the judges agreed he was the "ultimate leader" of the five
Kong Hee leaving the court. In meting out the harshest sentence among the six church leaders to Kong, the judges agreed he was the "ultimate leader" of the five others.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG, DESMOND FOO
Clockwise from top: Chew Eng Han; Kong Hee, flanked by lawyers Edwin Tong and Aaron Lee (far right); and Tan Ye Peng. In meting out the harshest sentence among the six church leaders to Kong, the judges agreed he was the "ultimate leader" of the five
Tan Ye Peng leaving the court. In meting out the harshest sentence among the six church leaders to Kong, the judges agreed he was the "ultimate leader" of the five others.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG, DESMOND FOO
Clockwise from top: Chew Eng Han; Kong Hee, flanked by lawyers Edwin Tong and Aaron Lee (far right); and Tan Ye Peng. In meting out the harshest sentence among the six church leaders to Kong, the judges agreed he was the "ultimate leader" of the five
Serina Wee (left) and her husband Kenny Low (right) leaving the court. The judges noted that the case should not be seen as a "sinister and malicious attempt" by the six to use the church's funds for their own purposes, despite the huge sum of about $50 million involved.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW, DESMOND FOO
Clockwise from top: Chew Eng Han; Kong Hee, flanked by lawyers Edwin Tong and Aaron Lee (far right); and Tan Ye Peng. In meting out the harshest sentence among the six church leaders to Kong, the judges agreed he was the "ultimate leader" of the five
John Lam arriving at the court. The judges noted that the case should not be seen as a "sinister and malicious attempt" by the six to use the church's funds for their own purposes, despite the huge sum of about $50 million involved.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW, DESMOND FOO
Clockwise from top: Chew Eng Han; Kong Hee, flanked by lawyers Edwin Tong and Aaron Lee (far right); and Tan Ye Peng. In meting out the harshest sentence among the six church leaders to Kong, the judges agreed he was the "ultimate leader" of the five
Sharon Tan arriving at the court. The judges noted that the case should not be seen as a "sinister and malicious attempt" by the six to use the church's funds for their own purposes, despite the huge sum of about $50 million involved.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW, DESMOND FOO

They were not motivated by personal gain and they thought they were acting in the best interests of City Harvest Church (CHC).

Ultimately, the church leaders believed their actions would advance the Crossover Project, a church mission to spread the Gospel through pop music, and this was generally supported by the congregation.

These were the "exceptional" mitigating factors considered by a three-judge panel, in reducing the jail terms for the six convicted CHC leaders yesterday.

In a 304-page written judgment, the judges noted that the case should not be seen as a "sinister and malicious attempt" by the six to use the church's funds for their own purposes, despite the huge sum of about $50 million involved.

Rather, they had "resorted to deceit and lies", such as hiding the truth of their transactions from auditors and lawyers, because they wanted to keep the use of the church's monies for the Crossover Project confidential.

They also feared questions would be asked, the judges said, adding that "their fault lies in adopting the wrong means".

 
 
 

On the issue of personal gain, the judges said that while the prosecution noted in its oral submissions that there was benefit accrued to Kong Hee's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, this was not raised in its written submissions for the appeal. The issue of personal benefit was, therefore, not factored into the sentencing.

The prosecution, calling for stiffer sentences, stressed the misappropriation of charity funds as among the aggravating factors.

But the court clarified that while CHC is a charity organisation, it is not a charity that is also an Institution of a Public Character. This means that donations to the church are not tax-deductible. Thus, donations to church funds "are invariably made by its members for the benefit of the church" and do not serve the community as a whole.

In addition, the six, though "reckless" with the funds, had no intention of causing permanent financial loss to the church.

"The appellants had, at all times, intended for the funds... to be eventually returned to CHC with the stated interest even if they might not have been entirely sure as to how or when they could do so at the time," the judges said.

In meting out the harshest sentence among the six to Kong, the judges agreed that he was the "ultimate leader" of the five others.

 

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2017, with the headline 'Six not motivated by personal gain: Judges'. Print Edition | Subscribe