SINGAPORE - More than 50 people have arrived outside the Supreme Court to queue for courtroom seats by 6.30am on Friday (April 7) to hear the outcome of the City Harvest Church (CHC) appeals.
City Harvest Church founder and senior pastor Kong Hee, 52, and five other church leaders have appealed against their convictions and sentences for misappropriating millions in church funds, while the prosecution has called for stiffer sentences.
The outcome of the appeals by the accused and the prosecution is expected to be delivered at about 9.30am, possibly marking a close to the marathon trial which started in 2013, involving the largest case of misuse of charitable funds in Singapore history.
The majority of those in the queue are CHC members, some who have arrived as early as 1am to secure a spot.
Ms Chen, who is in her 60s, was the first person to queue at around 1am.
"The reason I'm here is I want to hear for myself what the judge has to say," said the former CHC member.
A CHC member of eight years who only wanted to be known as Mr Chong, 28, turned up at around 5.30am.
"We wanted to hear the verdict and show our support for our pastor," he said.
A 21-year-old CHC member of five years, who declined to be named, said he has been "praying for the best outcome" for the church leaders.
Since last Friday (March 31), church members have, on their own accord, held overnight prayer sessions among its more than 500 cell groups over the week, The Straits Times understands. Founded in 1989, CHC is one of Singapore's megachurches and has close to 50 affiliate churches across the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.
But not all who turned up outside the court on Friday morning are CHC members.
A member of the public, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Parkany, turned up at 5.40am. As a Christian, she was concerned about the outcome of the appeal, she said.
Another non-CHC member, Madam Rita Kwek, said: "I'm not here to support the church but I want to know the outcome because it's a matter of public concern."
Besides Kong, the other CHC leaders include CHC deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44; former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 49; former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56; former CHC finance managers Serina Wee, 40, and Sharon Tan, 41.
They will appear before Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn.
In November 2015, the prosecution said that the 21 months to eight years given to the six were "manifestly inadequate", and called for longer sentences as follows:
Kong Hee: From eight years to 11 to 12 years' jail
Chew Eng Han: From six years to 11 to 12 years' jail
Tan Ye Peng: From five-and-a-half-years to 11 to 12 years' jail
Serina Wee: From five years to 11 to 12 years' jail
John Lam: From three years to eight to nine years' jail
Sharon Tan: From 21 months to five to six years' jail
In October 2015, the six were convicted of misappropriating about $50 million in church funds to fuel the pop music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, through the Crossover Project. This project aimed to attract non-Christians through her songs and spread the Gospel among them, the defence had said.
The court found that they had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds from music production firm Xtron and glass-maker Firna, and the money was used to fund the Crossover Project. Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.
Making it clear that Kong was the mastermind behind the conspiracy to cause wrongful loss to the church and defraud auditors, Judge See Kee Oon had dealt him the stiffest sentence of eight years in jail.
The saga began in 2010, when Kong and 16 others were picked up by the police to assist in investigations. By the time Kong and five others entered a packed courtroom in 2013 to face trial, the case had become one of the most anticipated trials of the decade.
At the close of a five-day appeal hearing in September 2016, Justice Chan Seng Oon had called the Crossover Project a "very extravagant" way of spreading the gospel.
The prosecution had said during the hearing that the six had not shown remorse for their actions.
Additional reporting by Toh Wen Li and Melody Zaccheus