City Harvest appeal

Shorter jail terms for 6 leaders

All six City Harvest Church leaders had their jail terms reduced to between 7 months and 3 1/2 years after they appealed against their convictions and sentences for misappropriating millions in church funds.
City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee leaving the court.
City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee leaving the court.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
Former City Harvest Church finance manager Serina Wee and her husband Kenny Low leaving the court.
Former City Harvest Church finance manager Serina Wee and her husband Kenny Low leaving the court.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Former City Harvest Church finance committee member John Lam arriving in court.
Former City Harvest Church finance committee member John Lam arriving in court.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng arriving in court.
Deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng arriving in court.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO
Former finance manager Sharon Tan arriving in court.
Former finance manager Sharon Tan arriving in court.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

High Court's split 2-1 ruling on appeal extremely significant, say lawyers

In a courtroom packed with supporters and a few detractors, City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee sat expressionless when he was told he will serve 31/2 years in jail - the final twist in one of Singapore's longest-running criminal trials.

It was less than half of the original sentence he had been facing, but in a split 2-1 High Court decision on appeal, the bench majority decided to reduce the 52-year-old's criminal breach of trust (CBT) charge to a less serious one.

Five other current and former church leaders, who in 2012 were accused of misappropriating $50 million in church money to fund the Crossover Project in a failed bid to promote the pop music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun, and then to cover up their tracks, also saw their jail terms slashed - despite the prosecution's appeal for longer terms.

Deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44, had his 51/2 years in jail cut to three years and two months.

Former fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56, who originally got six years in jail, had it reduced to three years and four months. Former finance manager Serina Wee, 40, had her five-year jail term halved to 21/2 years.

The three-year sentence of former finance committee member John Lam, 49, was also halved. Former finance manager Sharon Tan, 41, will be jailed for seven months instead of 21 months.

"While the conviction being upheld is not what I have hoped for, I am grateful that the sentence has been reduced," Kong, whom the judges described as the "mastermind", said later.

DIFFICULT TIMES

Keep my family in prayer. It is a difficult time for us.

CHC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR HO YEOW SUN, and wife of Kong Hee, speaking over the phone to The Straits Times.

Yesterday's ruling capped a case which has engrossed the public since 2010, when the authorities started probing the affairs of the City Harvest Church, seven years after a church member first made allegations that building funds were being misused.

The investigations cast a spotlight on Kong's prosperity gospel, which marries materialism with spiritualism, and the attempt by the church, which at its peak had 30,000 congregants, to reach out to the "unchurched" by turning Mandarin pop singer Ho into a star in America.

Ho starred in several racy videos, including China Wine, which featured Wyclef Jean and was widely viewed and criticised on YouTube.

During a marathon 142-day trial, which started in 2013, it was revealed how the six had channelled $24 million from CHC's building fund into sham bonds in music production company Xtron and glass-maker Firna. The money was in fact used to fund the Crossover Project.

Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the sham bond investments.

The prosecution, believing that the 2015 jail terms which ranged from 21 months to eight years were inadequate, filed appeals. All six accused also appealed against their conviction and sentence.

Kong's role as the "spiritual leader of the other appellants", whom he led and mentored, ought to be reflected in the sentences imposed, said the court yesterday, explaining why he received the longest jail term. But "none of the appellants, particularly Eng Han, Ye Peng, John Lam, Serina and Sharon, could be said to have gained anything from what they did other than pursuing the objectives of CHC. Their fault lies in adopting the wrong means", said Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin.

The dissenting judge, Justice Chan Seng Onn, however, said it was very clear Kong's wife had benefited directly and Kong indirectly from criminally misappropriated funds to fund her music career. Justice Woo Bih Li was the other judge who ruled on the appeal.

The ruling was described by lawyers as "extremely significant", given that the court departed from a four-decade-old legal position and reinterpreted Section 409 of the Penal Code, the provision governing the role of agents in CBT.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2017, with the headline 'Shorter jail terms for 6 leaders'. Print Edition | Subscribe