No home detention for ex-City Harvest leaders: Shanmugam

Although the Court of Appeal has ruled that the law did not apply to the church leaders, its decision does not affect the 15 cases, and there are no plans to review their sentences, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on March 19, 2018.
Although the Court of Appeal has ruled that the law did not apply to the church leaders, its decision does not affect the 15 cases, and there are no plans to review their sentences, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on March 19, 2018.PHOTO: ST FILE

Also, Govt has no plans to review earlier cases of people sentenced for CBT under Section 409

The former City Harvest Church leaders who committed criminal breach of trust do not qualify for home detention under a prison's policy, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

The Commissioner of Prisons, however, has the final say, Mr Shanmugam added.

Under the home detention scheme, offenders can serve part of their sentence at home, but will have to wear an electronic tag and observe a strict curfew.

Last month, the lawyer for John Lam, one of the six convicted former church leaders, said he had written to the prison authorities to ask that Lam serve his 1 1/2 -year jail term under the home detention scheme.

It was not disclosed whether the others had made similar requests.

The six had misappropriated $24 million in the church's building funds through sham bond investments in music production firm Xtron and glass maker Firna.

They also misused another $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 the secular music career of Ms Ho Yeow Sun, wife of the church's convicted founder-leader Kong Hee.

The others include Chew Eng Han, Serina Wee and Tan Ye Peng. One of them, Ms Sharon Tan, has finished serving her seven-month jail term.

Mr Shanmugam also told the House the Government had no plans to review the earlier cases of 15 people sentenced for criminal breach of trust (CBT) under the Penal Code's Section 409, which was used to prosecute the church leaders.

He said although the Court of Appeal has ruled the law did not apply to the former church leaders, its decision does not affect the 15 cases.

"They were convicted, sentenced before the High Court reviewed and changed the interpretation of the law regarding section 409," he said in his reply to Mr Murali Pillai (Bukit Batok), who had raised both issues.

Section 409 provides for heavier punishments for specified groups of people who commit CBT, and the maximum sentence is life imprisonment.

The apex court had upheld a High Court ruling last April that the provision cannot be applied to the former church leaders as they are directors and cannot be considered "agents" under Section 409.

They could be charged only under Section 406, which carries a maximum jail term of seven years.

Mr Shanmugam, in explaining why the earlier cases would not be reviewed, said Section 409 does not only cover professional agents, but also a broad range of people, including public servants.

Three of the 15 cases involved public servants, and the Court of Appeal's interpretation does not affect them, he added.

Another involved a lawyer and eight were agents such as insurance agents and real estate agents. He did not elaborate on the other three cases.

On a Feb 5 Parliament sitting, Mr Shanmugam had said the apex court's ruling was contrary to the legal position applied by Singapore's courts for the past 40 years, following a 1976 High Court decision that company directors are liable for aggravated liability under Section 409.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2018, with the headline 'No home detention for ex-City Harvest leaders: Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe