6 former City Harvest Church leaders back in court for criminal reference hearing

 

City Harvest Church former leaders (top left to bottom right) former finance manager Serina Wee, former fund manager Chew Eng Han, former finance manager Sharon Tan, founder Kong Hee, former pastor Tan Ye Peng and former treasurer John Lam. (Photo: Reuters)

Six former leaders of City Harvest Church (CHC) were back in court on Tuesday (1 August) for a hearing by the Court of Appeal to hear a criminal reference by prosecutors to clarify the law under which they had been convicted for financial fraud.

The six – CHC senior pastor Kong Hee, former pastor Tan Ye Peng, former board member John Lam, former fund manager Chew Eng Han, former finance manager Serina Wee and former finance manager Sharon Tan – arrived in court around 9:45am.

All the passes to attend the hearing, which is open to the public, had been given out before it began. Kong’s wife, Sun Ho, was not in court.

Five of the six turned up in court in purple prison overalls. They had begun serving their jail terms on 21 April this year. Chew was granted a deferment on his sentence as he wanted to file a criminal reference for his case.

The Court of Appeal panel comprises Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash, and Justices Belinda Ang, Quentin Loh and Chua Lee Ming. Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair is presenting the case for the prosecution.

After the High Court’s sentencing in April this year, the Attorney-General’s Chambers filed a criminal reference to refer certain questions of law regarding the church leaders’ sentences to Singapore’s highest court. Of particular interest is the issue of whether a director or a member of the governing body of a company or organisation who is entrusted with property is considered an “agent” under section 409 of the Penal Code.

The Court of Appeal’s decision on the matter is final.

The High Court had significantly reduced their sentences on 7 April. Both prosecution and defence had appealed against their original sentences, ranging from one year and six months to eight years, which were handed out in November 2015. The leaders were convicted of varying charges of criminal breach of trust (CBT) and falsifying of accounts after they were accused of misappropriating $50 million in church funds to support the music career of Kong’s wife, Sun Ho, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

In its judgment, the High Court reduced the CHC leaders’ CBT charges from section 409 to section 406 of the Penal Code. In a split decision, the Court ruled that the defendants as directors did not fall as “agents” under the aggravated CBT offences under section 409, which are more serious offences providing for higher maximum penalties.

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