City Harvest case

Six church leaders back in court to face outcome of appeals

3-judge panel to rule on their appeals against conviction and sentences, and prosecution's call for longer jail terms

Acquittal, harsher sentences, lighter sentences or the status quo - these are the possible scenarios facing six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders this morning.

A three-judge High Court panel will deliver its decision on the appeals by the defence against conviction and sentences, and also appeals by the prosecution for harsher punishment.

In November 2015, the six, including church founder Kong Hee, were handed jail terms ranging from 21 months to eight years in the largest case of misuse of charitable funds in Singapore history.

The six were found guilty, after a marathon trial that started in 2013, of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

A district court found that they had channelled $24 million from CHC's building fund into sham bonds in music production company Xtron and glass-maker Firna.

This money was in fact used to fund the Crossover Project. Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

The prosecution has appealed for longer jail terms for all six: Kong, 52; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44; former finance managers Serina Wee, 40, and Sharon Tan, 41; former finance committee member John Lam, 49; and former fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56.

The six have appealed against their conviction and sentences on varying charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts.

In September last year, five days were set aside for three judges - Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, and justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn - to hear the appeals.

Given the cross-appeals, a range of possible scenarios can materialise today.

On one end of the spectrum, the six may be acquitted and walk out free men and women if the court agrees with them that no crime has been committed as no wrongful loss was caused to the church.

But they may end up spending a much longer time behind bars if the court is persuaded by prosecutors that they deserve a harsher punishment for betraying the trust of church members.

Prosecutors have proposed 11 to 12 years in jail for Kong, Tan Ye Peng, Chew and Wee; eight to nine years in jail for Lam; and five to six years in jail for Sharon Tan.

It is also possible for the court to reduce their sentences if it finds that their original sentences were too harsh for what they had done.

Finally, the High Court may uphold the lower court's decision entirely and dismiss all appeals.

But even after the verdict is delivered, both sides have further legal recourse in what is known as a criminal reference. The procedure allows either side to take the case to a higher court by asking the Court of Appeal to make a ruling on a question of law of public interest.

However, the court can decline to make a ruling if it finds that the question submitted is not a question of law of public interest.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2017, with the headline 'Six church leaders back in court to face outcome of appeals'. Print Edition | Subscribe