SINGAPORE - City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee was the first of five church leaders convicted of misappropriating millions from the church's funds to arrive at the State Courts on Friday (April 21) to surrender himself and begin his jail term.
Kong, 52, was flanked by two men as he entered the State Courts building at around 8.30am as it rained outside. He will be jailed for 3½ years, the longest sentence of the convicted church leaders.
"I am totally at peace and I'm grateful to God for this. I have nothing more to say, just let me thank my friends," said Kong.
Church supporters had earlier streamed into the building and about 20 of them were seen outside a court room. Kong approached them and hugged some of them, with several becoming teary eyed.
Former CHC finance manager Sharon Tan, 41, arrived next. She faces the shortest jail sentence of seven months among the church leaders.
Former church finance committee member John Lam, 49, was third to reach the courts. His jail sentence is 1½ years. He and Kong later shared a long hug outside the court room.
Close to 9am, Kong entered the court room and waved goodbye to supporters, which had grown to about 40 strong by then. Sharon Tan and Lam followed suit to surrender themselves.
Just after 9am, CHC's deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44, reached the courts. He faces a jail term of three years and two months.
The last of the five church leaders to arrive was former finance manager Serina Wee, 40, who was accompanied by her husband Kenny Low. Tears streamed down her face when they hugged and she said that she would miss him. She will serve 2 ½ years in prison.
Both Sharon Tan and Wee had their hair cut short.
By 9.20am, the five church leaders were in the court room. A sixth church leader, former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56, was allowed to delay serving his sentence of three years and four months' jail pending a Court of Appeal ruling on important questions of law that have arisen from the case.
One church member of 12 years, who wanted to be known only as Gerald, said that he was overwhelmed.
“Of course, we are deeply saddened. But as Pastor Kong said, we have to stand together and trust in God,” the 27-year-old said. “We have to keep the church going while pastor is away so that the church becomes stronger when he is back.”
The six CHC leaders were found guilty of misusing $50 million in church funds and had their jail terms cut on April 7 after the High Court reduced their criminal breach of trust charge to a less serious one on appeal.
They will now serve between seven months and 3½ years, down from the jail terms of between 21 months and eight years handed out in 2015.
Four of them requested to defer their sentences by two weeks to spend Easter with their families.
Sharon Tan was initially granted a two-month deferment to attend to matters as her husband was relocating the family to the United States but she later applied to start serving her sentence earlier.
The church told its congregation on Thursday, in an updated list of questions and answers on its website, that "the best way to support the six is to continue in prayer".
"Also, as you can imagine, their families have many needs. As always, keep them and their families in prayer," it added.
The church also informed members that only approved visitors, who will mostly be family members, will be able to visit the five, and included guidelines on writing letters to them.
In a message on the church’s website on Friday, CHC executive pastors Aries Zulkarnain and Bobby Chaw said that the church would pray for the convicted leaders and urged members to keep them in their prayers.
After reporting to the State Courts, the convicted church leaders are expected to be led to the lock-up in the basement and taken to jail in prison buses, said lawyers not related to the case.