City Harvest case: Final verdict set for Feb 1

The Court of Appeal will be handing down its verdict on the City Harvest Church case, involving (clockwise, from top left) Kong Hee, Tan Ye Peng, Serina Wee, John Lam, Chew Eng Han and Sharon Tan. PHOTOS: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The highest court in the land will deliver on Thursday (Feb 1) the keenly awaited verdict in the final chapter of the marathon case involving the misuse of millions of City Harvest Church (CHC) funds.

The decision of the five-judge Court of Appeal will deal with two main issues - the interpretation of criminal breach of trust (CBT) laws and whether CHC founder Kong Hee and five others will face longer jail terms.

In a rarely invoked procedure known as a criminal reference, the prosecution had argued before the apex court in August last year that the City Harvest six ought to have been convicted of the more aggravated charge of CBT as agents, which provides for heavier punishment, rather than plain CBT.

Kong, 52, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44, former finance manager Serina Wee, 40, and former finance committee member John Lam, 49, are currently serving their jail terms of between 1½ and three years.

Former finance manager Sharon Tan, 41, has completed her seven-month jail term.

Former fund manager Chew Eng Han, 57, facing a jail term of three years and four months, is out on bail pending the court's decision.

If the Court of Appeal disagrees with the prosecution's interpretation of the law, the existing sentences will remain.

If the court agrees with the prosecution on the legal points, this could lead to longer sentences for all six.

The prosecution had sought to reinstate the original convictions of the six others if the court rules in its favour.

In November 2015, the six were handed jail terms ranging from 21 months to eight years after being found guilty of misusing 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.

They were then convicted of CBT as agents, under Section 409 of the Penal Code.

The six appealed against their convictions and sentences, while the prosecution appealed for harsher sentences.

In a split 2-1 decision in April last year, the High Court cleared the six of CBT as agents and found them guilty of plain CBT under section 406.

The majority ruled that Section 409 applies only to a "professional agents"; and directors such as the CHC six cannot be considered "agents" under the law.

As a result, the sentences were reduced to between seven months and 3½ years' jail.

The prosecution then referred the case to the Court of Appeal, whose decision on the point of law will have implications for future cases.

Chew told The Straits Times on Tuesday that the imminent decision was "sombre news but something that's inevitable".

He said he has told the prosecution that he intends to further defer the start of his jail term to Feb 22, in light of the upcoming Chinese New Year holiday, and will be making the request to the court.

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