24 April 2017
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Criminal law, procedure & sentencing feed-image   

5 church leaders set to begin jail terms

Straits Times
20 Apr 2017
Selina Lum

They are expected to start serving tomorrow; Chew gets deferment

Five of the six people convicted of misappropriating millions from City Harvest Church (CHC) funds - including founder Kong Hee - are expected to surrender to the State Courts tomorrow to start serving their jail terms.

The sixth, former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56, was granted his request to delay starting his sentence of three years and four months' jail until the Court of Appeal has made its final ruling on important questions of law that have arisen from the case.

The prosecution has applied for those questions to be heard by the apex court, and Chew said he will also be seeking permission to refer his own questions on the interpretation of criminal breach of trust laws.

He told reporters before the hearing that he believes he is innocent.

Besides Kong Hee, 52, the others due to start their sentences tomorrow are deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44, former finance manager Serina Wee, 40, former finance committee member John Lam, 49, and former finance manager Sharon Tan, 41.

Upon reporting to the State Courts, they are expected to be taken down to the lock-up in the basement, to be taken to jail in prison buses, according to lawyers not related to the case.

In a statement that was sent to the media, Kong said: "I am extremely saddened by the prospect of having to leave my family and church, and yearn to see them again after serving my sentence."

He said he has reflected deeply in the past weeks. "I have come to terms with what is ahead and am at peace," he said.

He also asked for forgiveness, adding he had made unwise decisions in the past that had led him to where he was today.

In 2015, the six were sentenced to between 21 months and eight years' jail for criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts.

They had misused $24 million of church funds to invest in sham bonds. The money was used to fund the music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun. Another $26 million was used to cover up the misdeeds.

On April 7, the High Court reduced their criminal breach of trust charge to a less serious one. As a result, their jail terms were cut to between seven months and 3½ years.

Kong got the longest sentence. Tan Ye Peng got three years and two months; Wee, 2½ years; and Lam, 1½ years.

Five of them were allowed to defer the start of their sentences by two weeks.

Sharon Tan was granted a two-month deferment to attend to matters as her husband was relocating the family to the United States on an expatriate package.

But yesterday, she asked the court to let her start serving her sentence earlier.

Her lawyer, Mr Paul Seah, said her husband had to move to the US earlier than expected, so she wants to finish her sentence as early as possible to be with her three children.

Her eldest, 13, who has "struggled" in the last few years and has seen a psychiatrist, needs his mother, he said.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong objected, calling it a "tactical" move.

He pointed out that given the length of her jail term, she may complete her sentence and leave for the US before the criminal reference has concluded.

But Mr Seah said: "It's a decision made by a mother in consideration of her family."

He agreed to promise in writing that in the event her original jail term of 21 months was restored by the apex court, she would go back to jail if she had already completed her current sentence.

She would also not leave Singapore before the apex court's decision and would surrender her passport to the court.

Separately, Chew's request to be allowed to travel to Perth, Australia, where his wife and daughter live, was rejected.

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.