Parliament: City Harvest Church leaders do not qualify for home detention scheme

Although the Court of Appeal has ruled that the law did not apply to the church leaders, its decision does not affect the 15 cases, and there are no plans to review their sentences, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on March 19, 2018.
Although the Court of Appeal has ruled that the law did not apply to the church leaders, its decision does not affect the 15 cases, and there are no plans to review their sentences, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on March 19, 2018.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders found guilty of criminal breach of trust do not qualify for home detention under a prisons policy, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Monday (March 19).

"We've now a policy and if that policy is applied by Commissioner of Prisons, those convicted in the City Harvest case will not qualify for home detention," he told Parliament.

He added that the Commissioner of Prisons has the final say on the matter.

The former CHC leaders had misappropriated $24 million in CHC building funds through sham bond investments in music production firm Xtron and glass maker Firna, and then misused a further $26 million to cover up the initial crime. The bonds were used to fund a church mission, the Crossover Project, to spread the gospel through the secular music career of Ms Ho Yeow Sun, the wife of church leader Kong Hee.

The five other CHC leaders are Ms Sharon Tan, Chew Eng Han, Serina Wee, John Lam and Tan Ye Peng. Ms Tan has finished serving her sentence.

Lam's lawyer had said at the conclusion of the case in February that he had written to the prison authorities to ask that Lam, who was given a 11/2-year term, be placed on the home detention scheme.

Mr Shanmugam said: “We looked at the principles that are applicable and we took advice from Attorney-General’s Chambers as to whether under law they would be entitled to community-based programmes, which will include home detention.

“It is something to be decided by the Commissioner of Prisons. He has got the discretion. But if the policy is applied...then they will not qualify.”

He was responding to Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok), who had asked if the church leaders qualify for the home detention scheme.

 

Mr Murali also asked what the Government planned to do about the people who were convicted and sentenced for criminal breach of trust under section 409 of the Penal Code that was used to prosecute the CHC leaders.

Mr Shanmugam said although the Court of Appeal has ruled that the law did not apply to the church leaders, its decision does not affect the 15 cases prosecuted before the CHC case, and there are no plans to review their sentences.

"They were convicted, sentenced before the High Court reviewed and changed the interpretation of the law regarding section 409, and the Public Prosecutor does not intend to file any applications in respect of them," he said.

Section 409 of the Penal Code provides for heavier punishments for certain classes of people who commit criminal breach of trust, and carries the maximum of life imprisonment.

The apex court had upheld a ruling made by the High Court in April last year (2017) that the provision cannot be applied to the CHC leaders as the six are directors and cannot be considered "agents" under Section 409.

As such they could only be charged under Section 406, which is punishable by up to seven years' jail.

Explaining why there are no plans to review the sentences of the 15 people convicted and sentenced before the City Harvest case, Mr Shanmugam said section 409 does not only cover professional agents, but also covers a broad range of people including public servants.

Of the 15 cases, only three involve directors. 

Mr Shanmugam, who had made an error in the total number in his answer on Monday, said during Tuesday’s Parliament sitting that the three directors had pleaded guilty and were convicted and sentenced before the Court of Appeal ruling changed the law.
 
They have been put on community based programmes, including home detention, and are scheduled for release in a few weeks.
 
Mr Shanmugam said the Public Prosecutor does not intend to file any applications in respect to the three cases.
 
The rest of the cases includes three convicted in their capacity as public servants, one attorney, and eight professional agents including insurance agents and real estate agents.
 
As such, the Court of Appeal’s interpretation does not affect them, he said.
 

On Monday, Mr Shanmugam had noted that there are at least 16 reported court decisions, and many other unreported decisions, reflecting the interpretation of the law before the recent Court of Appeal decision.

However, the people convicted in these cases "would have been convicted properly on the facts and on the law as had been applied by the courts", he said.

On Feb 5, Mr Shanmugam had told the House that the apex court's ruling was contrary to the legal position that has been applied by the courts here for the past 40 years, following a 1976 High Court decision that company directors are liable for aggravated liability under Section 409.