Government believes City Harvest sentences are too low: Law Minister Shanmugam

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Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam revealed in Parliament today that the Government believes the City Harvest Church (CHC) sentences are too low. He added during a ministerial statement on the matter that the government will move to ensure legislation allows for higher penalties for senior officers who commit criminal breaches of trust (CBT).

The Minister’s statement comes after the Court of Appeal dismissed a bid by prosecutors to reinstate the original sentences City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and his group of church leaders, which would have required the group to serve longer jail terms, last week.

Kong Hee and group were originally sentenced to longer jail terms after they were found guilty of misappropriating about S$50 million of church funds, in October 2015. A three-judge panel at the High Court halved the group’s jail terms after it heard a five-day appeal in court last year.

In reading the decision at the apex Court last week, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang said that Parliament should shape a remedy if there is any gap in the law and added: “A hard case should not be allowed to make bad law.”

The Attorney-General’s Chambers responded thereafter that it will work with the relevant ministries on “the appropriate revisions to the Penal Code”.

Shanmugam called the issue a “serious matter” last week and asserted today:

“The Government’s policy is clear: If you are a senior officer, director in the organisation, you are in a position of greater trust. You have considerable authority to make decisions in relation to the organisation’s assets. If you abuse that trust, you should be more culpable, and you should be liable for more severe punishments, compared with an ordinary employee.
“That’s really common sense, and there can be no question about that.
“It is now up to Parliament to amend the law. And that we should do, soon. We hope to make the amendment together with the other wide ranging amendments to the Penal Code.”

The Minister also advised that members of the public should not attack the judges even though they may be dissatisfied with the outcome of the City Harvest case. He said, “expressing one’s unhappiness with court decisions is fine – but it should not sink to the level of abuse, insult and contempt,” before adding:

“We have seen comments online that the judges let off those who are rich; that some judges were lenient because they were Christians and so on.
“This is not right. Judges should not be personally attacked, their integrity impugned, just because people do not agree with their decision … People are entitled to disagree with the decision. But let’s not attack the judges.
“The sentences reflect the law as it stands…The Courts decide these matters. All of us have to respect the decision, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with it.”