City Harvest case: Is this the end of the saga? Here's all you need to know

A five-judge Court of Appeal dismissed a bid to reinstate the original convictions for church founder Kong Hee and five others convicted for misusing millions in church funds.
City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and his wife Ho Yeow Sun arriving at the courts on Oct 21, 2015.
City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and his wife Ho Yeow Sun arriving at the courts on Oct 21, 2015.PHOTO: ST FILE
The City Harvest Church in Jurong West Street 91.
The City Harvest Church in Jurong West Street 91.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A five-judge Court of Appeal on Thursday (Feb 1) dismissed a bid by prosecutors to reinstate the original convictions for City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee and five others convicted of misusing millions in church funds - ending a marathon case involving the misuse of millions of dollars of CHC funds.

The current sentences will remain.

Here is what you need to know about the case:

1. Who is involved?

The six  are CHC founder and senior pastor Kong Hee, 53; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 45; former finance managers Serina Wee, 41, and Sharon Tan, 42; former fund manager Chew Eng Han, 57, and former finance committee member John Lam, 50.

2. What are their current jail terms?


City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee (centre) arriving at the State Courts to surrender himself and begin his 3½-year jail term on April 21, 2017. PHOTO: ST FILE

Kong is currently serving 3½ years' jail, the longest sentence of the six. Tan Ye Peng got three years and two months; Wee, 2½ years; and Lam, 1½ years.

They began serving their sentences on April 21 last year.

Chew faces a jail term of three years and four months. His sentence will begin on Feb 22.

Sharon Tan has completed her seven-month jail term.

3. What did the six do?


The Court of Appeal handed down its final 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, on Feb 1, 2018. PHOTOS: ST FILE

They misappropriated $24 million in CHC's building funds through sham bond investments in music production firm Xtron and glass maker Firna.

They then misused a further $26 million to cover up the initial crime.

These bonds were used to fund the Crossover Project, a church mission to spread the Gospel through the secular music career of Kong's wife, pop singer Ho Yeow Sun.

4. What were their original convictions and sentences?

The six were originally charged and convicted of CBT as agents, under Section 409 of the Penal Code.

They were handed jail terms ranging from 21 months to eight years in November 2015.

5. Was there an appeal, and what was the outcome?


A queue of about 80 people waiting outside the Supreme Court to attend the hearing on Aug 1, 2017. PHOTO: ST FILE

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

The prosecution had appealed for sentences ranging from five to 12 years for the six.

Deciding on the appeals last April, the High Court, in a split 2-1 decision, cleared the six of CBT as agents and found them guilty of plain CBT under Section 406 of the Penal Code.

As a result, their jail terms were cut to between seven months and 3½ years.

6. What happened after the appeal?


From left: Chew Eng Han, Tan Ye Peng, Kong Hee, John Lam and Serina Wee. ST ILLUSTRATION: CEL GULAPA

The prosecution then applied for a rarely invoked criminal reference, to seek a definitive ruling from the Court of Appeal as well as to reinstate the original convictions.

The prosecution was led by Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair in the hearing in August last year. The Court of Appeal had reserved judgment.

7. Who is on the five-judge panel for the criminal reference?

 
 

The panel includes Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash, and Justices Belinda Ang, Quentin Loh and Chua Lee Ming.

8. What is the impact of the Court of Appeal's decision?

In coming to this decision, the Court of Appeal overruled a 1976 High Court decision, which had held that company directors could be convicted for CBT under Section 409.

This means that the apex court has now ruled that company directors, as well as governing board members or key officers of charities and officers of societies, who commit CBT are only liable to be punished under Section 406.

The offence carries a maximum sentence of seven years' imprisonment.

In contrast, those who commit CBT under Section 409 may face up to 15 years' jail.

In response to the Court of Appeal's decision, the Attorney-General's Chambers said that it would work with relevant government ministries "on the appropriate revisions to the Penal Code, to ensure that company directors and other persons in similar positions of trust and responsibility are subject to appropriate punishments if they commit criminal breach of trust".

9. Is this the end of the saga?


Former CHC finance manager Sharon Tan walking out of the Supreme Court with her lawyer Paul Seah after the final verdict. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Yes. The decision of the court on Thursday is final and brings the long-running case to a close.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on Thursday that the Court of Appeal ruling is a serious matter and will make a ministerial statement on the Government's position in Parliament. 

Criminal investigations into the case began in 2010.

The trial stretched over 142 days, from its start in 2013 to sentencing in November 2015. It is one of the longest criminal cases in history, beaten only by a drug trafficking case in the 1990s that went on for 168 days.

The case is also likely to be the costliest criminal trial here, with legal fees for the six church leaders possibly exceeding $10 million, lawyers had said.