City Harvest Church case: Chew Eng Han denied permission to refer legal questions to apex court

Former City Harvest Church fund manager Chew Eng Han leaving the Supreme Court on April 7, 2017.
Former City Harvest Church fund manager Chew Eng Han leaving the Supreme Court on April 7, 2017.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Former City Harvest Church (CHC) fund manager Chew Eng Han, one of the six found guilty of misusing millions in church money, on Monday (July 3) lost his chance to fight against his conviction before the Court of Appeal.

Chew's application for leave, or permission, to refer questions of law of public interest to the apex court was denied by Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash and Justice Quentin Loh.

Chew, 56, who argued his own case, raised 10 broad issues, including the question of whether there can then be misappropriation and dishonesty under circumstances in which money is not taken away for personal use, but applied for the owner's use.

The prosecution, represented by Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair, opposed his application. The senior counsel argued that Chew has not raised novel points of law.

Justice Phang said Chew's questions did not meet the threshold to be considered questions of law of public interest. He noted that a High Court panel of three judges had unanimously found that a conviction for criminal breach of trust was warranted. Justice Phang added that Chew was the only accused person seeking to raise questions of law.

In April, the jail terms of all six individuals - including church founder Kong Hee - were cut after the High Court reduced their criminal breach of trust charge to a less serious one on appeal. As a result, their initial jail terms of between 21 months and eight years were reduced to between seven months and 3½ years.

Prosecutors then applied for a rarely invoked procedure known as a criminal reference, to seek a definitive ruling on questions of law of public interest as well as to ask the apex court to reinstate the original convictions.

The issue is whether directors, such as the six individuals, should be convicted of plain criminal breach of trust or the more serious criminal breach of trust as agents.

Kong, 52, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44, former finance manager Serina Wee, 40, former finance committee member John Lam, 49, and former finance manager Sharon Tan, 41, started serving their jail terms on April 21.

Chew, however, succeeded in getting his sentence of three years and four months' jail suspended until the Court of Appeal has made its ruling on the prosecution's criminal reference.

Mr Nair will be presenting the prosecution's arguments at the criminal reference, which is scheduled to be heard on Aug 1.