City Harvest mega church founder Kong Hee was yesterday sentenced to eight years in jail for his role in misusing charity money in a failed attempt to turn his wife into a global pop star.
The other five City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders found guilty last month over what has been labelled by the prosecution as Singapore's biggest charity financial scandal were also handed prison terms.
Deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng was given 51/2 years. Former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han was handed a six-year prison term. For former CHC finance committee member John Lam, it was three years behind bars.
And former CHC accountants Serina Wee and Sharon Tan were given sentences of five years and 21 months, respectively.
After the 142-day trial that absorbed Singaporeans and caught the world's attention, Judge See Kee Oon told a packed courtroom that the six acted dishonestly, defrauded auditors and betrayed the trust of donors as they illegally used $50 million of the church's building fund to pay for the pop career of Ms Ho Yeow Sun and then covered their tracks.
He agreed with the defence that the six may not have gained financially themselves, and believed they were pursuing the church's interests by trying to attract the "unchurched" through Ms Ho's music.
But the judge highlighted the large sums involved, the serious nature of the offences and the need to deter others.
Ms Ho, whose raunchy music videos and lavish lifestyle had raised eyebrows, was not in court yesterday alongside her husband.
Never charged, she was recently made a pastor of the church, which is now closely monitored by the Commissioner of Charities.
Yesterday, through a post on the church's Facebook page, she urged members to band together and pray for the six.
Later, Kong, on his own Facebook page, wrote that he was saddened by the length of his sentence. He also said the lessons learnt will strengthen the church, which has lost a quarter of its congregation since investigations began in 2010. According to the church's annual report last year, its congregation numbered around 17,500.
The six accused had their bail extended and were informed that their prison terms start on Jan 11. Chew told the court he would appeal against his conviction and sentence. The rest said they would study the judgment first.