Kong Hee appears at ease in packed courtroom

Many in the courtroom were emotional to see Kong Hee for the first time since he began serving his jail term.
Many in the courtroom were emotional to see Kong Hee for the first time since he began serving his jail term.

City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee flashed a wide smile to a packed courtroom yesterday, in what was his first public appearance after more than three months behind bars.

Sporting a crew cut with white hair, and dressed in a purple prison jumpsuit, the 52-year-old appeared at ease as he took his seat in the middle of the dock just before 10am.

He looked eagerly at the public gallery, mouthing "hi" to a few people from behind the glass partition.

Many were emotional to see him for the first time since he began serving his 31/2-year jail term on April 21.

Kong's wife and CHC pastor, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, was not present.

John Lam, 49, was next to arrive. The former CHC finance committee member appeared tired and sat quietly next to Kong, as the chatter in the courtroom grew louder.

Former CHC finance managers Serina Wee, 40, and Sharon Tan, 41, appeared next, with their hair in a bob cropped to their ears and a short fringe grazing their eyebrows. Tan wore glasses.

Kong, Lam and Wee were visibly thinner but they were relaxed as they talked among themselves. Tan smiled and greeted a few people in the public gallery, before joining in their chat.

Wee's husband Kenny Low was in court. Looking solemn, he sat at the end of the public gallery, nearest to the dock.

Last to enter the court was former deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44, who was all smiles. He was seen gesturing to someone in the public gallery with his palms to the sides of his face, as if to indicate that he has become thinner.

Sitting next to him, former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56, who was in a dark suit, looked sombre as he waited for the criminal reference hearing to begin.

Chew is the only one among the six CHC leaders who is out on bail. He was allowed to suspend his sentence to apply for permission to file his own criminal reference. The court rejected his application last month.

After the hearing began shortly after 10am, the six looked ahead and sat stoically, glancing only occasionally at the public gallery.

At about 11.45am, when there was a short break, a crowd gathered near the dock. Some were seen gesturing and waving excitedly, before they were told to quieten down by police officers.

Kong's face lit up as he waved to a few supporters. He mouthed "it's OK" and signalled it with his hands.

After another break for lunch, the hearing resumed in the afternoon, before ending at about 4.30pm.

As people milled around in the public gallery, seemingly hesitant to leave, the five CHC leaders were led away in handcuffs and shackles.

Ng Huiwen

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2017, with the headline 'Kong Hee appears at ease in packed courtroom'. Print Edition | Subscribe