City Harvest appeal verdict: Acceptance and disappointment among church leaders over court decision

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Church founder Kong Hee (centre) leaving the High Court on Friday (April 7). ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Chew Eng Han leaving the High Court on Friday. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Former City Harvest Church finance manager Serina Wee and her husband Kenny Low leaving the court. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Former finance manager Sharon Tan arriving in court. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Former City Harvest Church finance committee member John Lam arriving in court. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng arriving in court. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

SINGAPORE - All six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders received reduced jail sentences, but they varied in their reactions to the outcome, ranging from acceptance, sadness, to disappointment.

Five of them have asked for two weeks' deferment in serving their jail sentences, citing reasons such as spending time with family over Easter on April 16, and the need for time to consider legal options.

Former church finance manager Sharon Tan, 41, who received seven months' jail, reduced from 21 months, has asked for her sentence to be deferred for two months.

She said her husband and two kids are relocating to the United States on an expatriate package, and she would like to have time to settle down. All deferment requests were granted.

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All six City Harvest Church leaders had their jail terms reduced to between 7 months and 3 1/2 years after they appealed against their convictions and sentences for misappropriating millions in church funds.

A three-judge panel meted out reduced jail terms to the six for convictions of criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts at the High Court on Friday morning (April 7).

Church founder Kong Hee, 52, who was sentenced to three years and six months' jail, reduced from eight years, was disappointed that his appeal against conviction was not overturned, said his lawyer Senior Counsel Edwin Tong.

"But he appreciates that the judges said they were acting in the interest of the church," said Mr Tong.

Kong did not speak to the media at the court. But he later tweeted: "I know that many of you have been praying and fasting for the team and I. I am very thankful for the support and prayers that have been shown to our families.

"While the conviction being upheld is not what I have hoped for, I am grateful that the sentence has been reduced. Once again, thank you so much for all the love you have given to me and my family."

Mr Kenny Low, husband of former finance manager Serina Wee, 40, said they have mixed feelings over the decision. His wife received two years six months, reduced from five years.

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"It is just a number. It is still time lost and the opportunity to be with your loved ones taken away. I don't know what to say at this moment. I just want to talk to my wife," he told reporters, adding that they will be spending time together as a family.

Sharon Tan, 41, is disappointed that there is no acquittal, said her lawyer Paul Seah.

"But we recognise that the sentence was reduced. Now it will be time for Sharon to pray and spend time with family... We are pleased with the reduction, the court has recognised the limited role Sharon plays in this," he added.

Deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44, who received a jail sentence of three years and two months, reduced from five and half years, said he would like to move on.

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"The trial has been very long so I think I would also like to serve the sentence and move on," he added.

His lawyer N. Sreenivasan said Tan was grateful to the courts for the fair assessment and "regrets the turmoil the church has gone through".

Chew Eng Han, 56, former CHC fund manager, who received three years four months, reduced from six years, said he is disappointed and is considering recourse.

"I am disappointed and will most likely make another appeal. I will seek legal recourse," he added.

John Lam, 49, a former CHC finance committee member, said that it is "highly unlikely" that he will seek legal recourse on his sentence. He received one year six months, reduced from three years.

"(I am) obviously sad...if you listen to the judgment, I think there is no personal gain. Ultimately we did it for the church, for the Crossover. But we have to accept the I just want to move on with my life."

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In November 2015, the six were handed jail terms ranging from 21 months to eight years in the largest case of misuse of charitable funds in Singapore history.

The six were found guilty, after a marathon trial that started in 2013, of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

A district court found that they had channelled $24 million from CHC's building fund into sham bonds in music production company Xtron and glass-maker Firna.

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This money was in fact used to fund the Crossover Project. Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

The six had appealed against their conviction and sentences on varying charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts.

The prosecution had appealed for longer jail terms for all six.

In September last year, five days were set aside for three judges - Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn - to hear the appeals.

A member of the church, who is in her 70s and declined to be named, said she had prayed for a total acquittal but was still satisfied with the sentences.

"I think it is fair and hopefully, they come out as better people and continue serving the church," she added.

- Additional reporting by Yuen Sin, Toh Wen Li, Zhao Jiayi, Abigail Ng and Raynold Toh YK

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