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[UPDATE 21 Oct 2015: All six accused have been found guilty. Sentencing will be at a later date.]
Six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders will learn their fates on Wednesday (21 Oct), when Judge See Kee Oon is set to deliver his verdict on the trial.
The 140-day trial came to a close last month when the prosecution and lawyers for the accused made their final submissions to the court.
The six - CHC senior pastor Kong Hee, deputy pastor Tan Ye Peng, finance manager Sharon Tan, former finance manager Serina Wee, and former board members John Lam and Chew Eng Han - are accused of misusing church funds to finance the Crossover Project, involving the music career of Ho Yeow Sun, Kong’s wife.
They are alleged to have used $24 million on Ho, before using another $26.6 million to cover it up using two companies, Xtron and Firna, which are both owned by CHC supporters.
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.
Here are the key figures involved in the case:
Kong is the co-founder and senior pastor at CHC. He is facing three charges of criminal breach of trust.
Kong graduated from the National University of Singapore with a computer science degree. He started City Harvest in 1989, and was ordained two years later. He was on the CHC board as president from 1992 until 2011.
During the trial, Deputy Public Prosecutor Mavis Chionh said Kong was a “well-practised liar” who sought to “portray his leadership role in managing CHC as being hands-off, indirect”.
Kong’s lawyer, Edwin Tong, said there “has been no personal gain” by his client, and said Kong was relying on an “organisational structure” which had a “reliance on professional advisers” as he had been overseas for much of the time.
Ho Yeow Sun:
Ho, who goes by the stage name of Sun Ho, is the wife of Kong, a co-founder of CHC and a member of the board from 1993 to 2006.
The charges against the senior CHC members stem from $24 million used to fund her singing career, as part of the Crossover Project.
Music production company Xtron had been managing her before another company, Ultimate Assets, took over the management of her career.
Ho is not facing any criminal charges.
Tan Ye Peng:
Tan, deputy pastor at CHC, faces six charges of criminal breach of trust and another four for allegedly falsifying church accounts.
Tan, who also sat on the investment committee, was first appointed to the CHC board in 1995. He was elected as vice-president in 2007.
The prosecution said Tan’s authority in management of the Crossover Project was second only to Kong’s.
DPP Chionh said his defence was an attempt to shift the blame for any incriminating acts on Kong and Chew.
Tan’s lawyer, N Sreenivasan, said the prosecution was inferring his client’s guilt from his part in distancing the church from Xtron, and that “the evidence” against Tan “cannot sustain a conviction”.
Lam, a former CHC board member, faces three charges of criminal breach of trust. He was a former member of the investment committee.
A certified public accountant and chartered financial analyst, Lam also served as treasurer and secretary of the board.
DPP Chionh told the court Lam had a “special role” that could not have been fulfilled by any of the other co-accused. Lam was the “inside man” in CHC’s oversight bodies to prevent the sham bonds from being discovered, the prosecution said.
Lam’s lawyer Kenneth Tan argued that Lam honestly believed that “this is an investment which helps the Crossover (Project)”.
Chew Eng Han:
Chew, who was CHC’s former fund manager, faces six charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsification of accounts.
He become a CHC member in 1995, but left in 2013, saying in a statement he had been “seeing and tolerating … betrayal, slander, ingratitude, denial and lies, manipulation and control, greed, pride, hypocrisy, abuse of authority, practice of favouritism and different standards”.
In court, Chew accused Kong of lying to CHC members over Ho’s “not real” music success, which he said was a result of church members spending hundreds of thousands of dollars buying Ho’s CDs.
Chew had argued the sham investments into Xtron and Firna were investments into Ho’s music career, insisting her album “was an investment” in his mind.
DPP Chionh said Chew had taken “multiple positions that are irreconcilable “, which showed the “incoherence and the lack of credibility” of his defence.
Wee, CHC’s former finance manager, faces six charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsification of accounts.
Wee joined CHC’s accounting department in 1999, and in 2005 was promoted to finance manager. In 2007, she left to start her own accounting firm.
Wee was also a member of the CHC board from 2005 to 2007, and was the administrator of the Crossover Project. She described working for the church as a “dream come true”.
DPP Chionh called Wee “the most inextricably involved” because of her role, which had her keeping track of accounts and budgeting for Ho’s music career.
Wee’s lawyer, Andre Maniam, told the court to consider Wee’s situation was really a “case of well-intentioned accused who used church funds for church purposes, and that should not and cannot be criminalised”.
Tan, CHC’s finance manager, is charged with three counts of criminal breach of trust and four of falsifying accounts.
She joined CHC’s accounting department in 2000, and took over the role of finance manager in 2008 after Wee left.
DPP Chionh said Tan was “deeply cynical and self-serving”. When Tan admitted to falsifying the minutes of a meeting of the church board, Tan’s lawyer, Paul Seah said it was due to the inexperience of Tan and church management.
Chionh replied, saying, “CHC was not some struggling new voluntary outfit run by bumbling amateurs with no experience of the financial world”.
Timeline of the case
2010: Commissioner of Charities and the Commercial Affairs department probe suspected financial irregularities in CHC.
June 2010: Kong Hee and 16 others are questioned over the use of church funds.
June 2012: Five CHC leaders, including Kong, are arrested and charged in court the next day.
July 2012: Ex-finance manager Serina Wee is charged in court in relation to the case.
21 June 2013: Chew quits CHC, releases his personal statement online.
14 September 2015: The trial comes to a close after 140 days, becoming one of the longest-running trials in Singapore.
21 October 2015: Judge See to give his verdict on the case.