Fears give way to relief for ex-church leaders and supporters

Ms Sharon Tan with her lawyer Paul Seah at the Supreme Court building following the final verdict on the City Harvest case yesterday. Mr Seah said Ms Tan was very grateful that "the journey is over".
Ms Sharon Tan with her lawyer Paul Seah at the Supreme Court building following the final verdict on the City Harvest case yesterday. Mr Seah said Ms Tan was very grateful that "the journey is over".ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

The court's decision comes as a relief to City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee, who is looking forward to finishing his jail term. Meanwhile his singer-wife Sun Ho says she is grateful to God and thankful to everyone who has "loved us in spite of everything".

Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, the lawyer for Kong, said he spoke to the megachurch founder shortly before the start of the hearing yesterday. "He (Kong) said he was at peace with himself and prepared to accept whatever happened," Mr Tong told The Straits Times.

After the verdict that dismissed the prosecution's bid to reinstate the original conviction for Kong and five other church leaders, and maintained their reduced jail terms, Kong told Mr Tong he was relieved and now focused on finishing the remainder of his sentence and "getting on with his life".

The five other CHC leaders are Ms Sharon Tan, Chew Eng Han, Serina Wee, John Lam and Tan Ye Peng.

Ms Ho, who goes by her stage name Sun Ho and was not in court, later told The Straits Times over the phone that she was "just grateful to God for the result of the matter".

"I'm very thankful for everyone who has journeyed with us and prayed for us and loved us in spite of everything," she added.

The former CHC leaders had misappropriated $24 million in CHC building funds through sham bond investments in music production firm Xtron and glass maker Firna, and then misused a further $26 million to cover up the initial crime. The bonds were used to fund a church mission, the Crossover Project, to spread the gospel through Ms Ho's secular music career.

Relief replaced fears for church members, the families and friends of the six former CHC leaders after the five-judge Court of Appeal delivered its decision.

Ms Tan was teary-eyed and hugged supporters as she left the courtroom.

Later, her lawyer, Mr Paul Seah, told reporters that she was very grateful that "the journey is over".

Chew said he had no strong feelings over the court's decision as "it came out as we had hoped for". "It never feels good to come to court," he told reporters.

Mr Kenny Low, the husband of Wee, said the family is happy this saga is finally coming to a close. "Now I can tell the kids a date that mummy is coming home," he said.

Lawyer Nicholas Narayanan, who acts for Lam, said his client was "very relieved that there's finally closure to the longstanding case".

Mr Narayanan said he has written to the prison authorities to ask that Lam, who was given a 11/2-year term, be placed on the home detention scheme as soon as possible. If approved, Lam will get to serve the tail end of his sentence outside the prison but will wear an electronic tag and observe a strict curfew.

In a statement on the CHC website yesterday, executive pastors Aries Zulkarnain and Bobby Chaw said the verdict allows the church leaders to continue serving their sentences with more certainty.

Some church members left the courtroom looking teary-eyed, while others embraced one another. A queue to attend the hearing for the final verdict had started forming at 3.30am yesterday at the Supreme Court building.

Business consultant Lester Chee, 29, who has been a church member for 12 years, said he was thankful for the outcome.

"We all miss our leaders dearly and cannot wait to see them again soon," he said, adding that it was "heartbreaking" to see his leaders in the dock.

Selina Lum, Tan Tam Mei and Gracia Lee

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2018, with the headline 'Fears give way to relief for ex-church leaders and supporters'. Print Edition | Subscribe