SINGAPORE - Former City Harvest Church (CHC) fund manager Chew Eng Han's sentence of three years and four months' jail for his role in the misuse of millions in church funds will start, earliest, on March 1.
This is provided no further remand for investigations into his alleged escape from Singapore is ordered.
However, if further remand for investigations is ordered by the district judge on March 1, then his sentence for criminal breach of trust will start, latest, at the end of his further remand, the Court of Appeal ordered on Tuesday (Feb 27).
Chew, 57, was originally scheduled to begin his sentence for criminal breach of trust last Thursday (Feb 22) but was nabbed at sea last Wednesday (Feb 21) morning, allegedly trying to flee to Malaysia on a motorised boat.
He was charged with leaving Singapore unlawfully on Thursday (Feb 22), and was ordered to be remanded at Central Police Division for investigations until the case is mentioned again on March 1.
The issue of the commencement date of his jail term for criminal breach of trust was brought before the Court of Appeal - the last court that dealt with the CHC case - by the prosecution on Tuesday.
The prosecution argued that his sentence should start when his further remand has come to an end, without giving any fixed dates.
Chew's lawyer Jonathan Phipps argued that Chew should be considered to be serving his sentence currently. The lawyer argued that his client was indeed in court last Thursday, in compliance with the order to surrender himself that day to start his sentence.
But Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang noted that Chew was in court not out of his own volition but because of investigations into a separate offence.
After some deliberations, the five judges ruled that Chew's sentence of three years and four months will start on March 1 if no further remand is ordered. But if further remand is ordered, Chew's sentence will "commence immediately upon expiry of such further remand".
Chew was arrested along with another man, Tan Poh Teck, at 8.47am last Wednesday on board a motorised sampan, said police. Tan, 53, was piloting the sampan that had picked Chew up from the main jetty on Pulau Ubin, north-east of mainland Singapore.
The duo were caught in Singapore waters after they were intercepted by three Police Coast Guard vessels about 2.4km eastwards of the jetty. Chew was found with about $5,000 in cash and fishing equipment.
The Straits Times understands that when questioned, Chew and Tan claimed they were fishing. But based on earlier information received, the police established that the duo were trying to leave Singapore illegally for Malaysia.
If found guilty of this offence, Chew can face a jail term of up to six months and a $2,000 fine.
Police also arrested his older brother, Chew Eng Soon, 61, on Wednesday for abetting the offence.
Five other City Harvest Church leaders - including founder-pastor Kong Hee - who were also convicted of misusing church funds, began serving their sentences last April. But Chew, who was out on $1 million bail, had secured multiple deferments.
After his jail term - which was reduced from six years by the High Court in April last year - was upheld by the Court of Appeal on Feb 1, Chew was allowed to defer his sentence until after Chinese New Year.