By Wan Ting Koh and Wong Casandra
Former City Harvest Church (CHC) fund manager Chew Eng Han was charged under the Immigration Act on Thursday (22 February), a day after his alleged attempt to flee Singapore by sea.
The 57-year-old was due to begin serving his jail term of three years and four months on Thursday for his role in the CHC saga but was arrested by the Police Coast Guard (PCG) after they intercepted his vessel in the waters off Pulau Ubin at about 8.45am on Wednesday.
Wearing a blue-collared shirt and spectacles, the former CHC fund manager was charged with one count of leaving Singapore from Pulau Ubin jetty – which is not an authorised point of departure – by embarking on a boat – a motorised sampan – that was about to leave Singapore and remaining on board the boat at the time of its departure for Malaysia.
Another man who was piloting the sampan, 53-year-old Tan Poh Teck, was also charged under the Immigration Act with one count of abetting Chew to leave Singapore by conveying Chew on a motorised sampan from Pulau Ubin jetty.
Deputy public prosecutor Tan Zhongshan asked for Chew’s bail to be revoked for breach of bail conditions. He added in court that the prosecution will apply to the Court of Appeal for a fresh date for Chew to start his sentence.
The prosecution also applied for both accused to be remanded for a week for investigation, which was granted by the judge. Further, it is seeking a “show cause” hearing for Chew’s bailor to explain why the bail amount should not be forfeited, but the date has not yet been fixed.
Chew and Tan arrived at the State Courts in a police van at about 7.20am on Thursday.
Chew’s elder brother, 61-year-old Chew Eng Soon, was also arrested on Wednesday afternoon for abetting the escape attempt. He has not been charged in court.
At least nine of Chew’s family members and friends were present in court. He remained expressionless throughout the proceedings. Chew was represented by Jonathan Phipps of Y S Chung Law Corporation.
Phipps told reporters that Chew’s family only learned about Chew’s arrest through media reports on Wednesday and is “upset” that the police did not contact them prior to media reports. He added that the family will not be issuing a press statement.
At a press conference on Wednesday, police said that Tan and the younger Chew were attempting to depart Singapore illegally from Pulau Ubin to Malaysia.
Yahoo News Singapore understands that the duo had said they were going fishing when they were surrounded by PCG vessels after departing from the Pulau Ubin jetty. Some $5,000 in cash, fishing equipment, and three mobile phones were found in their vessel – a motorised sampan.
Chew and five other former CHC leaders, including 53-year-old church founder Kong Hee, were convicted of misappropriating some $50 million in church funds in relation to the music career of Kong’s wife Sun Ho.
Following a High Court appeal, Kong; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 45; former finance manager Serina Wee, 41; former finance committee member John Lam, 50; and former finance manager Sharon Tan, 42, had their original sentences reduced.
Chew’s original sentence of six years was reduced to three years and four months.
The long-running case concluded earlier this month when the Court of Appeal upheld the reduced sentences imposed by the High Court.
While the other five CHC leaders began serving their sentences on 21 April last year, Chew was out on bail and was set to only begin serving his sentence on Thursday.
He had failed in his two attempts to challenge his conviction in July and August last year, with the Court of Appeal calling his second attempt an “abuse of court process”.
If convicted of leaving Singapore illegally, Chew faces a jail term of up to six months and/or a maximum fine of $2,000. If convicted of abetting Chew to leave Singapore illegally, Tan could be jailed between six months and two years and fined a maximum of $6,000.