Teary eyes after court hands down verdict

Serina Wee (left) and her husband Kenny Low (right) leaving the court. The judges noted that the case should not be seen as a "sinister and malicious attempt" by the six to use the church's funds for their own purposes, despite the huge sum of about
Serina Wee (left) and her husband Kenny Low (right) leaving the court. The judges noted that the case should not be seen as a "sinister and malicious attempt" by the six to use the church's funds for their own purposes, despite the huge sum of about $50 million involved.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW, DESMOND FOO
Chew Eng Han leaving the court. In meting out the harshest sentence among the six church leaders to Kong, the judges agreed he was the "ultimate leader" of the five others.
Chew Eng Han leaving the court. In meting out the harshest sentence among the six church leaders to Kong, the judges agreed he was the "ultimate leader" of the five others.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG, DESMOND FOO
Kong Hee leaving the court. In meting out the harshest sentence among the six church leaders to Kong, the judges agreed he was the "ultimate leader" of the five others.
Kong Hee leaving the court. In meting out the harshest sentence among the six church leaders to Kong, the judges agreed he was the "ultimate leader" of the five others.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG, DESMOND FOO
Tan Ye Peng leaving the court. In meting out the harshest sentence among the six church leaders to Kong, the judges agreed he was the "ultimate leader" of the five others.
Tan Ye Peng leaving the court. In meting out the harshest sentence among the six church leaders to Kong, the judges agreed he was the "ultimate leader" of the five others.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG, DESMOND FOO
John Lam arriving at the court. The judges noted that the case should not be seen as a "sinister and malicious attempt" by the six to use the church's funds for their own purposes, despite the huge sum of about $50 million involved.
John Lam arriving at the court. The judges noted that the case should not be seen as a "sinister and malicious attempt" by the six to use the church's funds for their own purposes, despite the huge sum of about $50 million involved.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW, DESMOND FOO
Sharon Tan arriving at the court. The judges noted that the case should not be seen as a "sinister and malicious attempt" by the six to use the church's funds for their own purposes, despite the huge sum of about $50 million involved.
Sharon Tan arriving at the court. The judges noted that the case should not be seen as a "sinister and malicious attempt" by the six to use the church's funds for their own purposes, despite the huge sum of about $50 million involved.ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW, DESMOND FOO

Eyes turned red and filled with tears after the six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders at the centre of a long saga heard the verdict handed down by the High Court.

The reality of a jail term hit CHC leaders Sharon Tan, 41, and Serina Wee, 40, particularly hard as they teared up while exiting court.

Meanwhile, Tan Ye Peng, 44, looking contrite, hugged and shook hands with supporters who respectfully addressed him as "pastor". Tan's lawyer N. Sreenivasan said he "regrets the turmoil the church has gone through".

The six sat behind a glass screen in court yesterday, stoic and solemn, as the verdict was delivered.

Church founder Kong Hee, 52, later took to social media to say: "I know that many of you have been praying and fasting for the team and (me). I am very thankful for the support and prayers that have been shown to our families."

Speaking softly over the phone to The Straits Times, his wife, CHC executive director Ho Yeow Sun, said: "Keep my family in prayer. It is a difficult time for us."

 
 
 

Mr Kenny Low, husband of former finance manager Wee, said they have mixed feelings over the decision. On her reduced sentence, he said: "It is just a number. It is still time lost and the opportunity to be with your loved ones taken away."

Five of the leaders had asked for two weeks of deferment in serving their sentences, citing reasons such as spending time with family over Easter on April 16, and the need for time to consider legal options.

Former CHC finance manager Sharon Tan's husband and two children will be relocating to the United States on an expatriate package, and she sought to have the sentence deferred by two months.

Although disappointed that there was no acquittal, Tan recognised that her sentence was cut from 21 months to seven months. Her lawyer Paul Seah said: "Now, it will be time for Sharon to pray and spend time with family."

Meanwhile, former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 49, said: "(I am) obviously sad... Ultimately, we did it for the church, for the Crossover (Project)."

Cell group leader and finance manager Lim Choon Kiong, 38, told The Straits Times: "I do know a couple of the leaders personally... Most of them have children or are sole breadwinners. Their jail terms will impact their families a lot."

Former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56, who has left the church, said he had expected his conviction to be overturned. "I will spend the next few days thinking about my grounds for appealing."

Responding to The Straits Times, the National Council of Churches of Singapore, which represents over 250 churches, reiterated the need for churches to be "extra vigilant about matters of sound governance". It said its president Rennis Ponniah, on behalf of the council, "will be sending a personal message to express our continued prayers for Pastor Kong Hee, his family and CHC, and also assuring him and (CHC of) continued fellowship with us as part of the body of Christ".

•Additional reporting by Toh Wen Li, Abigail Ng, Raynold Toh, Zhao Jiayi

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2017, with the headline 'Teary eyes after court hands down verdict'. Print Edition | Subscribe