City Harvest case: Kong Hee, with white hair and crew cut, in good spirits as criminal reference hearing begins

(From left) Tan Ye Peng, John Lam, Kong Hee, Serina Wee, and Sharon Tan during the hearing on Aug 1, 2017. ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL
(Left to right) Tan Ye Peng, Sharon Tan, John Lam, Kong Hee, Serina Wee during the hearing on Aug 1, 2017. ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL
A prison van ferrying former leaders of City Harvest Church arrived at the Supreme Court at 9.05am. ST PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee, 52, flashed a wide smile to a packed public gallery, as he entered the dock on Tuesday morning (Aug 1) for the criminal reference of the case.

Sporting a crew cut and white hair, Kong, who was wearing a purple prison jumpsuit, appeared at ease as he took his seat in the middle of the dock. He looked eagerly at the gallery several times, while mouthing "hi" to a few people.

His wife and CHC pastor, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, was not in court.

This was the first time in over three months that Kong and four of the five others were seen publicly, after they began serving their jail terms on April 21.

Former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 49, arrived soon after. He looked visibly tired and sat quietly in the dock next to Kong.

Kong, Lam and Serina Wee, 40, appeared to have lost weight. But they seemed relaxed, with Sharon Tan, 41, smiling and chatting with the other former church leaders. Tan was wearing glasses.

The hair of the two women was cropped to their ears, and their fringe grazed their eyebrows. Tan Ye Peng, 44, whose hair is visibly grey, was seen gesturing to someone in the public gallery with his palms to the sides of his face, as if to indicate that he has become thinner.

Serina Wee's huband, Mr Kenny Low, was in court. He arrived alone at about 9.30am and later sat with the other church supporters.

The criminal reference began at about 10am, with Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair presenting the prosecution's case.

During the hearing, the six looked ahead and sat stoically, glancing only occasionally at those in the public gallery. At about 11.45am, when the court took a 10-minute break, a crowd gathered in the public gallery near the dock. Some waved excitedly, before they were told to quieten down by police officers.

Kong waved to a few supporters and mouthed "it's ok", signing with his hands, while Lam was seen laughing during a short chat with his lawyer.

On April 7, the six CHC leaders were cleared of a more serious form of criminal breach of trust (CBT) as agents under Section 409 of the Penal Code, and found guilty of simple CBT under Section 406.

As a result, their initial jail terms of between 21 months and eight years were reduced to between seven months and 3½ years.

The prosecution had filed a criminal reference on April 10 to seek for a definitive ruling on questions of law of public interest as well as to ask the apex court to reinstate the original convictions.

A criminal reference has been invoked only 21 times from 2007 to 2016. The judges have the power to quash the conviction, make no orders to the acquittal or conviction, or order a retrial by the lower court. The decision is final.

Former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56, was allowed to suspend his sentence to apply for permission to file his own criminal reference. In July, the 56-year-old's application was rejected by the court, which said the questions he had raised did not meet the required threshold.

Chew is currently out on bail, and representing himself. He arrived at court at about 9.30am in a dark suit.

A queue started to form outside the Supreme Court building from as early as 4am. About 80 people were in line, but only the first 55 received passes to attend the hearing.

The criminal reference has started at 10am before Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash, and Justices Belinda Ang, Quentin Loh and Chua Lee Ming.

Kong is represented by Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, Lam by Senior Counsel Kenneth Tan, Wee by Senior Counsel Andre Maniam, Tan Ye Peng by Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, and Sharon Tan by lawyer Paul Seah.

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