Sampan intercepted during a fishing trip that wasn't

Former City Harvest Church leader Chew Eng Han was believed to be heading to Malaysia on a boat on Wednesday (Feb 21) when he was intercepted and arrested by police. He was due to start his jail term for his role in the church's misuse of fund case.

No sign that ex-City Harvest leader was fishing, say police

At about 8.30am yesterday, former City Harvest Church fund manager Chew Eng Han hopped onto a motorised sampan from the Pulau Ubin jetty.

In the boat was fishing equipment. Chew, who was in shorts, appeared dressed for a fishing trip - only he was not going on one, say the police. About 10 minutes into the journey out, when the sampan was about 2.4km from Ubin and still in Singapore waters, three Police Coast Guard boats intercepted it.

Chew, 57, was arrested along with the boat's pilot Tan Poh Teck, 53, for attempting to leave Singapore unlawfully at an unauthorised point of departure.

Chew's arrest came a day before he was due to surrender himself at the State Courts to start a jail term of three years and four months for his role in misusing church funds.

The Straits Times understands that the two men had initially told the police they were there fishing. Preliminary investigations showed that while the duo were dressed casually, there was no indication that they had been fishing.

Police said they had been trying to flee to Malaysia illegally from Pulau Ubin. Chew was also found with about $5,000 in cash, fishing equipment and three mobile phones. The sampan, which was seized, had two kayaks in it.

The Ubin jetty usually sees boats and sampans docking at the island that is north-east of mainland Singapore.

 

The Straits Times understands that Chew had travelled to the island by boat on his own before meeting the sampan operator, who does not ply the route between mainland Singapore and Ubin regularly.

A man understood to be Chew's brother, Chew Eng Soon, 61, was arrested yesterday afternoon for abetting his attempted escape.

In 2015, Chew Eng Han was convicted for his role in the seven-year City Harvest saga, alongside five other former church leaders, including founder-pastor Kong Hee.

Bail of $1 million was extended to Chew as he sought multiple deferments to fight the conviction.

Following a Court of Appeal hearing on Feb 1, he asked to serve his jail term after the Chinese New Year, which was granted.

Unlike in the United States and Britain, the act of absconding is not a separate criminal offence in Singapore, say lawyers. But when an accused person jumps bail, the bail money will be usually forfeited unless the bailor is able to convince the court otherwise.

At Chew's condominium home in Upper East Coast, his wife said she did not know what had happened and that the police had not contacted her. They have two children aged 27 and 17.

Chew was previously the church board's vice-president and treasurer. He was also a director of music production company Xtron Productions from 2003 to 2004.

The six CHC leaders had channelled $24 million from the church's building fund into Xtron and glass maker Firna in the form of sham bonds to fund the pop career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project. They then misused a further $26 million to cover up the misdeed.

Chew, a church member since 1995, cut ties with the church in 2013, later telling the court that one reason was that Kong "deceived the people closest to (him)".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 22, 2018, with the headline 'Sampan intercepted during a fishing trip that wasn't'. Print Edition | Subscribe