City Harvest case: Opposition to QC

A-G Chambers, Law Society will contest request

CITY Harvest Church member Chew Eng Han faces stiff opposition to his plan to hire an elite British lawyer to defend him.

The 52-year-old wants to fight the multi-million-dollar corruption case with the help of a Queen's Counsel (QC).

But both the Attorney-General's Chambers and the Law Society told The Straits Times they intend to object to his application.

Yesterday, however, Chew said that he was not surprised by the development. "It's natural that they would object and I am not too bothered by it," he added.

The City Harvest investment manager is one of six church leaders charged last June with conspiring to cheat the church of millions of dollars. They are alleged to have funnelled $24 million into sham bond investments to further the career of senior pastor Kong Hee's pop singer wife. The six are also said to have misappropriated another $26.6 million to cover up the first sum.

Chew wants QC Jonathan Caplan to defend him in the upcoming trial. He has said he needs to hire one of the elite British lawyers as he cannot find a Senior Counsel - the local equivalent - to take on the case. But before doing so, he is legally obliged to serve the application papers on the Law Society and Attorney General. Both will express their views to the court, which has the final say.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the Attorney-General's Chambers said it will oppose the application "from the point of view of public interest and legislative policy". He added that there are "various issues of public interest that a court will consider in deciding whether to admit Queen's Counsel". These include "the need to nurture the local Bar, and to ensure the proper and timely administration of justice".

The Law Society said it considers each application independently. It will be objecting in the present case, said a spokesman. The reasons will be given at the hearing.

Chew originally hired Senior Counsel Francis Xavier of Rajah and Tann, but the firm was discharged in October. The Straits Times understands this is because it was involved in drawing up original documents for bond investments involved in the case.

All of his co-accused are being represented by Senior Counsel. The trial was due to begin in April, but it is understood the application for a QC may delay it. Chew told The Straits Times: "I believe I have a compelling case."

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