SINGAPORE - City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee said on Friday (April 7) that while his conviction was upheld - which was not what he had been hoping for - he is nonetheless "grateful" that the sentence was reduced.
Kong, 52, whose eight year jail term has been cut to 3½ years, posted on social media following the verdict: "I know that many of you have been praying and fasting for the team and I. I am very thankful for the support and prayers that have been shown to our families.
"While the conviction being upheld is not what I have hoped for, I am grateful that the sentence has been reduced. Once again, thank you so much for all the love you have given to me and my family."
Meanwhile, speaking softly over the phone to The Straits Times, his wife, CHC executive director and pastor Ms Ho Yeow Sun, said: "Keep my family in prayer. It's a difficult time for us."
CHC's executive pastor and president of its board Aries Zulkarnain also had a similar message.
In a message posted on the church's website, Mr Zulkarnain said that while they are deeply saddened by the court's decision to sentence the six church leaders to jail, they also "thank God" for the shorter sentences meted out to the six accused leaders.
Mr Zulkarnain noted that the entire saga was a seven-year journey.
He wrote: "In the Bible, the seventh year is a time of Sabbath, a time of release and rest. It has been a hard journey that all of you have taken with the leadership - through it all, we have learned many lessons, the most precious of which is to trust God with our whole lives."
Like Kong, Mr Zulkarnain also thanked the congregation for the "ceaseless prayer and uncompromising faith" and encouraged members to pray for and support the six and their families as they go through this difficult time, as well as to gather over the weekend to worship.
Supporters had filled the public gallery of the courtroom where a three-judge panel delivered their verdict. Many were perched on the edges of their seats. A handful looked anxious and concerned, although the six leaders were stoic and solemn for the most part.
Speaking to The Straits Times, cell group leader and finance manager Lim Choon Kiong, 38, said the ideal would have been acquittal but said that he was more pleasantly surprised than disappointed by the outcome.
Mr Lim, who has been with the church since 1998, said: "Realistically, lighter sentences were the best result. The verdict has been favourable.
"I do know a couple of the leaders personally... most of them have children or are sole breadwinners. Their jail terms will impact the family a lot. So hopefully, if they can get out in a shorter period of time, they can be with their families."
Another cell group leader Mr Kirk Png, 42, an anti-money laundering financial crime compliance consultant, said the church has improved from the governance perspective. He has been a member for 25 years.
Mr Png said: "We have made dramatic amendments to how the church and its finances are run. It has been a learning curve for us. Now we just want to move on as a church, and have closure. We will move towards making this church a better place for people to come and worship."
Attendance has dipped steadily at the church since the criminal probe began in 2010.
For instance, it drew a congregation of 16,482 in 2015 - this was a 6 per cent drop from 2014.
On the dip, Mr Png said: "What is important is not who has left but who has stayed. When things happen you don't just leave the family and move on."