[UPDATE 21 Oct 2015: As the case proceeded in a District Court, the maximum sentence per charge that Judicial Commissioner See Kee Oon can impose is 10 years, and the maximum cumulative sentence he can impose is 20 years in total. Even on appeal, the High Court would be bound by the same limit, as the case started in a District Court.]
City Harvest Church co-founder and senior pastor Kong Hee and five other church leaders were found guilty on Wednesday of all charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts against them.
Judge See Kee Oon announced the verdict a packed courtroom that included many members of the megachurch, one of the largest Protestant churches in Singapore. Some had started queuing as early as 11pm the night before.
"The weight of the evidence suggests they knew that they were acting dishonestly," said the judge. "They chose to participate in a conspiracy to misuse CHC funds."
Kong, deputy pastor Tan Ye Peng, finance manager Sharon Tan, former finance manager Serina Wee, and former board members John Lam and Chew Eng Han were accused of misusing $24 million of church money to finance the music career of Ho Yeow Sun, Kong’s wife, in the United States. Another $26.6 million was also allegedly used to cover it up through two companies, Xtron and Firna, which are both owned by CHC supporters.
Judge See noted that some of the accused were acting on the instructions of those they considered their spiritual leaders, but that the "purity of their motives" did not exonerate them. No "permanent loss" to the church was intended, but this was predicated on their trust in Kong and their belief in the Crossover project, which aimed to spread the gospel through Ho's singing career.
He observed a "mindset of presumptuousness, demonstrating that the accused were overconfident that the funds could be replaced before suspicions were aroused". There was a "pervasive mindset of short term expediency" in their actions, even as they chose to "deefraud auditors with falsified accounts".
The six accused appeared calm when the verdict was announced. Sharon Tan was later seen dabbing tears away, while Kong Hee had his head bowed. Ho, who was sitting in the public gallery, also remained calm and was seen texting away on her mobile.
When Kong and Ho were approached by reporters after the verdict was delivered, Senior Counsel Edwin Tong spoke for the couple, "Leave him be for now. He can't talk now."
The verdict follows a 140-day trial — one of the longest in Singapore — that came to a close last month when the prosecution and lawyers for the accused made their final submissions to the court.
To recap, these are the charges against the accused, who were found guilty on all counts:
Kong Hee - three counts of criminal breach of trust
John Lam - three counts of criminal breach of trust
Chew Eng Han - six counts of criminal breach of trust and four counts of falsification of accounts
Tan Ye Peng - six counts of criminal breach of trust and four counts of falsifying church accounts
Serina Wee - six counts of criminal breach of trust and four counts of falsification of accounts
Sharon Tan - three counts of criminal breach of trust and four counts of falsifying accounts
Criminal breach of trust is punishable with a life sentence or up to 20 years in prison, and a fine. For falsifying accounts, the punishment is a maximum of 10 years in jail, a fine, or both.
Bail was set at $1 million for Kong, Lam, Chew and Tan. Wee and Tan had their bail amounts set at $750,000. Following written submissions and mitigation pleas by the prosecution and defence next month, oral submissions will be delivered on 20 November.