SINGAPORE - The six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders convicted of multi-million dollar fraud arrived in court for their appeals on Thursday (Sept 15) morning.
Senior counsel Kenneth Tan, representing former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 48, was the first of six parties to present his case in the morning.
CHC founder Kong Hee, 52, is expected to do so in the afternoon.
Kong arrived with his wife Ho Yeow Sun. The appeal is set to be heard over five days (Sept 15 to 16, and 19 to 21) before a three-judge panel in the High Court.
The panel comprises Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn.
The six are arguing against their convictions and sentences, while the prosecution is appealing for longer deterrent sentences.
In October last year, they were convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of Ms Ho in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.
The court found that they had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds from music production company Xtron and glass-maker Firna, but this money was in fact used to fund the Crossover Project.
Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.
For their crimes, the six were handed jail terms ranging from 21 months to eight years.
Kong, fingered as the key man behind the scandal, was given the stiffest sentence.
Presiding Judge See Kee Oon had choice words for the charismatic church pastor, whom he said "acted consciously and dishonestly".
"One does not need to be an expert in legality to appreciate certain fundamental aspects of honesty, truth and integrity," wrote Judge See in his written judgment.
Former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 57, was handed a six-year term. And as Kong's right-hand man, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 43, was given a sentence of 5½ years.
Former church finance manager Serina Wee, 39, was given a five-year term. Mr Lam, former CHC finance committee member, was sentenced to three years in jail.
Former church finance manager Sharon Tan, 40, received the shortest sentence of 21 months' jail.
Calling the case unique and without precedent, Judge See had agreed with the defence that the church suffered no wrongful loss, but still found them guilty of serious offences - including falsifying church accounts and breaches of trust involving large sums of charity money.
But the prosecution has described the jail terms as "manifestly inadequate". During the trial, they called for harsher sentences - highlighting that the case involved the largest amount of charity funds ever misappropriated in Singapore's legal history, which has shaken public confidence in the charity sector.
Said Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong: "It must be made clear that those leading charities, entrusted with the funds, must adhere to the highest standards of integrity and transparency."
The session starting on Thursday (Sept 15) could be the final avenue of appeal open to the six church leaders.
If their appeals fail, they can only refer the case up to the Court of Appeal with its permission - and only then if there is a point or question of law to argue.