Former City Harvest Church (CHC) fund manager Chew Eng Han's sentence of three years and four months' jail for his role in the misuse of millions in church funds will start, at the earliest, tomorrow.
This is provided no further remand for investigations into his alleged escape attempt from Singapore is ordered when the case is mentioned in court tomorrow.
However, if further remand for investigations is ordered, then his sentence for criminal breach of trust (CBT) will start, at the latest, at the end of his further remand, the Court of Appeal ordered yesterday.
Chew, 57, was originally scheduled to begin his sentence for CBT last Thursday but was nabbed at sea last Wednesday morning, allegedly trying to flee to Malaysia on a motorised boat. He was charged in court with leaving Singapore unlawfully last Thursday, and is being remanded at Central Police Division for investigations until the case is mentioned again tomorrow.
The issue of the commencement date of his jail term for CBT was brought before the Court of Appeal - the last court that dealt with the CHC case - yesterday.
The prosecution argued that his sentence should start when his further remand has come to an end, without giving any fixed dates.
Chew's lawyer Jonathan Phipps, from Y S Chung Law Corporation, argued that Chew should be considered to have started serving his sentence on Feb 22. Mr Phipps said his client had complied with the order that he was to appear in court that day to start his sentence.
But Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang noted that Chew was in court not of his own volition but because of investigations into a separate offence.
After some deliberations, the five judges ruled that Chew's sentence of three years and four months will start tomorrow if no further remand is ordered. But if further remand is ordered, his sentence will "commence immediately upon expiry of such further remand".
Five other CHC leaders - including founder-pastor Kong Hee - who were convicted of misusing church funds, began serving their sentences last April. But Chew, out on $1 million bail, had secured multiple deferments.
After his jail term - which was reduced from six years by the High Court in April last year - was upheld by the Court of Appeal on Feb 1, he was allowed to defer his sentence until after Chinese New Year.
Last Wednesday, a day before he was to start his sentence, Chew was arrested along with another man, Tan Poh Teck, at 8.47am on board a motorised sampan. Tan, 53, was piloting the sampan that had picked Chew up from the main jetty on Pulau Ubin, said police.
They were caught in Singapore waters after they were intercepted by three Police Coast Guard vessels about 2.4km east of the jetty. Chew was found with about $5,000 in cash and fishing equipment.
Based on earlier information received, the police established that the duo were trying to leave Singapore illegally for Malaysia.
If found guilty of this offence, Chew could face a jail term of up to six months and a $2,000 fine.