Former City Harvest Church (CHC) leader Chew Eng Han wanted to leave Singapore as he “felt injustice and unfair” for his High Court case and did not want to be convicted.
This was the prosecution’s position at the opening of Chew’s case on Monday (24 September) as the 58-year-old claimed trial to one charge of attempting to leave Singapore illegally by boat and one charge of attempting to escape from justice by avoiding serving his sentence.
For his first charge, Chew is accused of embarking on a boat from Pulau Ubin jetty, which is not an authorised place of embarkation, on 21 February this year with the intention of later transferring to another boat that would leave Singapore for Malaysia.
Chew was foiled in his escape attempt and arrested one day before the start of his jail term of three years and four months for his previous conviction of misappropriating some $50 million in church funds to finance the music career of Kong’s wife Sun Ho along with five other CHC leaders. The Police Coast Guard (PCG) intercepted his boat 2.4km off Pulau Ubin at about 8.45am.
His lawyer, Adrian Wee, is arguing that the charge of Chew attempting to leave Singapore illegally was not made out, as Chew was arrested while enroute to another rendezvous point and that he was not out of Singapore waters.
On Monday, the bespectacled Chew turned up in the State Courts dressed in purple prison overalls and looked thinner than during his previous appearances in court. He smiled at his wife, who was seated in the gallery, as he was led to the dock.
He chose to remain silent when called to testify. The trial wrapped up in the same morning as no other defence witness was called.
According to the prosecution, as early as October last year, Chew contemplated fleeing Singapore by car and was at Queen Street’s bus terminal seeking drivers to help him in his attempt. Most drivers whom he spoke to allegedly told him that they would not smuggle people out of Singapore.
He then met Khoo Kea Leng, a Malaysian freelance driver who ferried people between Singapore and Malaysia. Khoo told Chew he had the necessary contacts and the two men exchanged contact numbers.
Later that day, Khoo allegedly sent a message to Chew quoting a price of $18,000 to leave Singapore by car but Chew declined as it was too expensive.
A day before the escape attempt, Chew asked Khoo if he could arrange an escape attempt by boat. Khoo quoted a price of $12,000 and told Chew to meet him at Marine Drive at 8pm. Khoo also asked Chew to prepare fishing equipment to pass himself off as a fisherman.
At around 7.45pm, Chew told his elder brother, Chew Eng Soon, about the plan and asked for help to buy fishing equipment at Mustafa Centre.
Chew met Khoo at Marine Drive at 8pm and handed over $8,000 to him. Khoo told Chew to dress as if he were going for a fishing trip, adding that someone would call him about the meeting place.
Khoo later told Chew that he would be sent to Johor Bahru via two boats the next day and instructed him to pass the remaining $4,000 to a second boatman. He added that the second boatman would bring Chew to a shopping mall in Johor Bahru, where he would meet Khoo.
Shortly after midnight on 21 February, Chew received a call instructing him 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 Police 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 at 8.19am.
The boat was intercepted by Police Coast Guard (PCG) craft within Singapore waters in the vicinity of Chek Jawa Wetlands and Pulau Sekudu at 8.43am.
This was as the boat was headed towards four fish farms, northeast of Pulau Ubin close to the boundary between Singapore and Malaysian waters where Chew was to board a second boat to head towards Malaysia, according to the prosecution.
Tan and Chew were arrested and $5,186 in cash was seized.
Khoo and Tan have been jailed for their respective offences. A Malaysian tour guide, Tan Kim Ho, was also previously jailed for helping Chew in his escape attempt.
The prosecution, represented by Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong, said in its opening statement that since Chew had admitted to wanting to leave Singapore due to his perceived injustice at his conviction, it was “undisputed that (Chew’s) intention was to entirely avoid serving his sentence, which had been lawfully imposed on him by the High Court.”
On the first day of his trial, three prosecution witnesses were called, including two crew commanders of the PCG vessels that intercepted Chew’s boat.
One of the officers, Inspector Lam Kok Wah, testified that the officers received a call at around 5.40am that an unknown person would be attempting to leave Singapore illegally. The boat license number and the identity of the boatman were given. The identity of the caller was not revealed in court. Two vessels were deployed to intercept the boat.
When asked by the defence if he believed the boat piloted by Tan would turn north towards Malaysia, Inspector Lam said no, adding that he stopped the boat as he believed a person was attempting to leave Singapore illegally.
Investigating officer Samantha Wong also testified that she recorded three statements from Chew between 21 and 27 February.
The case will resume on 13 November, when the verdict is expected to be delivered.