SINGAPORE - City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee is relieved at the court's decision and looking forward to finishing his jail sentence while his singer-wife Ho Yeow Sun is grateful to God and thankful to everyone who has "loved us in spite of everything".
Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, Kong's lawyer, said he spoke with the megachurch founder shortly before the start of the hearing on Thursday (Feb 1).
"He (Kong) said he was at peace with himself and prepared to accept whatever happened," Mr Tong told The Straits Times.
After the verdict that dismissed the prosecution's bid to reinstate the original conviction for Kong and five other church leaders and maintained their reduced jail terms, Kong told his lawyer that he was relieved and now focused on finishing the remainder of his sentence and "getting on with his life", said Mr Tong.
When contacted later, Ms Ho, who goes by her stage name Sun Ho and was not in court, told The Straits Times over the phone that she was "just grateful to God for the result of the matter".
"I'm very thankful for everyone that has journeyed with us and prayed for us and loved us in spite of everything," she added.
Similarly, relief replaced fears for many church members, families and friends of the six former CHC leaders after a five-judge Court of Appeal dismissed a bid by prosecutors to reinstate their original convictions.
Kong, 53; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 45; former finance manager Serina Wee, 41; and former finance committee member John Lam, 50, began serving their existing and reduced jail terms of between 1½ and 3½ years from April last year.
The former leaders had misappropriated $24 million in CHC's 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 - known as the Crossover Project - to spread the Gospel through Ms Ho's secular music career.
Former finance manager Sharon Tan, 42, has completed her seven-month jail term.
Chew has been out on bail pending the court's decision and was allowed his request to start serving his sentence of three years and four months on Feb 22, after the Chinese New Year holiday.
Lawyer Nicholas Narayanan, who acts for Lam, said his client was "very relieved that there's finally closure of the longstanding case".
Mr Narayanan said he has written to prison authorities to ask that Lam, who was given a 1½ year term, be placed on the home detention scheme as soon as possible.
If approved, Lam will get to serve the tail-end of his sentence outside the prison but will wear an electronic tag and will have to observe a strict curfew.
In the dock, Lam and Wee exchanged looks and smiled slightly upon hearing the verdict. Kong and Tan did not display any emotion.
Ms Sharon Tan, who will not need to go back behind bars, was teary-eyed and hugged supporters as she left the courtroom, and was all-smiles as she left the Supreme Court.
Business consultant Lester Chee, 29, who has been a church member for 12 years, said he was thankful for the outcome.
"We all miss our leaders dearly and cannot wait to see them again soon," he said, adding that it was "heartbreaking" to see his leaders in the dock.
In a statement published on the CHC website on Thursday, executive pastors Aries Zulkarnain and Bobby Chaw said the verdict allows the remaining five to continue serving their sentences with more certainty.
"We thank God for His mercy and kindness for sustaining us through these seven years and bringing this to an end. We thank you, Church, for continuing in prayer all these years and for your faithfulness and support," they added.
- Additional reporting by Tan Tam Mei