Former City Harvest Church (CHC) fund manager Chew Eng Han was found guilty on Wednesday (12 December) of attempting to leave Singapore illegally by boat and intentionally defeat the course of justice by not serving his sentence.
Chew, 58, claimed trial to the two charges in September. He had attempted to leave the country on a motorised sampan on 21 February this year, a day before he was due to serve a jail term for past offences involving the misuse of millions in CHC funds.
Acting on a tip-off, the Police Coast Guard (PCG) intercepted Chew’s sampan and arrested him about 2.4 kilometres off Pulau Ubin, in the vicinity of Chek Jawa Wetlands and Pulau Sekudu.
He is currently serving a sentence of three years and four months for his CHC-related offences, which involved criminal breach of trust.
During the half-day trial, defence lawyer Adrian Wee argued that the prosecution had failed to substantiate the charge of leaving the Republic illegally, as Chew was en route to another rendezvous point and had not left Singapore waters when he was caught. He said that the charge would only have been made out had Chew embarked on the second leg of the journey from the second point of embarkation, but he was intercepted during the first leg of his journey.
Wee also argued that, since the course of justice ended with the Court of Appeal hearing in January, Chew could not have defeated or perverted the course of justice.
However, Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong said that the charge was made out and it was only because Chew’s boat was intercepted that he failed to leave Singapore illegally.
As for the second charge of obstructing the court of justice, DPP Ong said that the course of justice continues even after an offender is convicted and sentenced.
On the immigration charge, District Judge Victor Yeo said he was not persuaded by the defence’s argument to “split” Chew’s journey into two parts and say that his route to the first rendezvous point did not apply in this case.
“By the time the accused embarked on the first boat, he was clearly on his way to leave Singapore…. as long as he was on the way to embark on the second boat, it would constitute an immigration offence,’ said DJ Yeo.
As for second the charge, the judge said the course of justice continues even until an offender begins his sentence upon conviction. “The course of justice will be defeated if a convicted person is able to avoid the sentence given by the court,” he added.
Chew’s escape plan
Chew previously admitted that he wanted to leave Singapore as he “felt injustice and unfair” over his High Court case and that he did not want to be convicted.
He had sought to flee Singapore as early as October last year, when he went to the Queen Street bus terminal to seek drivers.
He met Khoo Kea Leng, a Malaysian freelance driver who ferried people between Singapore and Malaysia. Chew initially rejected Khoo’s quoted price of $18,000 but later asked Khoo to arrange a departure by boat.
Khoo made the arrangements and settled for a price of $12,000. He told Chew to meet him at Marine Drive at 8pm. He also asked Chew to prepare fishing equipment to disguise himself as a fisherman.
Shortly after midnight on 21 February, Chew received instructions to meet at Changi Village at 7.30am. His elder brother dropped him off at the location with the fishing equipment at 7.20am.
He was later directed to take a boat to Pulau Ubin Jetty as there were PCG patrol boats in the vicinity of Changi Village. Chew took a boat to the jetty and later boarded another boat, which was piloted by Singaporean fish farmer Tan Poh Teck.
The boat was intercepted by PCG shortly after, and the two men were arrested.
For the charge of attempting to leave Singapore from an unauthorised port of embarkation, he could be jailed up to six months or fined up to $2,000. He also faces maximum jail term of three and a half years and/or a fine on the charge of defeating the course of justice.
Chew will be sentenced on 29 January.