City Harvest Church founder, Kong Hee, and five of his church members’ sentences were reduced by the Appeal Court today. The court meted out the following sentences after a five-day appeal hearing in September 2016:
Kong Hee – 8 years to 3.5 years
Serina Wee – 5 years to 2.5 years
Tan Ye Peng – 5.5 years to 3 years and 2 months
Chew Eng Han – 6 years to 3 years and 4 months
John Lam – 3 years to 1.5 years
Sharon Tan – 21 months to 7 months.
The sensational case – which is Singapore’s largest charity scandal – involves misappropriating $50 million of church funds. After a lengthy trial in 2015, the High Court found the six leaders guilty of using $24 million belonging to the Church to fund the music career of Sun Ho. To cover up their tracks, they used another $26 million.
The High Court judge ruled that they were “effectively putting CHC’s funds into their own hands to use as needed” despite being “not authorised”. The Appeal Court however decided to reduce their charge from one of aggravated form of criminal breach of trust (CBT) to a “simple” form of CBT.
2 out 3 judges thought the prosecution had not satisfied the requirements to prove the aggravated form of CBT, which the law states the person must be a public servant, or a banker, a merchant, a factor, a broker, an attorney or an agent, when committing the crime.
The Church has responded to the sentencing saying that they are “deeply saddened by this decision,” but “thank God for the shorter sentences.”
Below is the Court’s oral submissions on the case.
Kong Hee, CHC founder
“We agree with the Judge (See Kee Oon) that Kong Hee’s overall culpability and criminality are the greatest of the appellants.
Kong Hee was the ultimate leader both of the Crossover and the appellants and it was he who provided the appellants with the overall direction and moral assurance for their actions. He was also the one who instilled the appellants with the confidence in the mission of the Crossover (Project) and (Kong Hee’s wife) Sun Ho’s ability to be successful in the US.
While we accept that Kong Hee neither directed nor participated in the conspiracy to redeem the bonds, it cannot escape our notice that the round-tripping transactions would not have been necessary if the Xtron and Firna bonds had never been entered into in the first place. It is clear from the circumstances of this case that Kong Hee was one of the main players – if not the main player – who had set things in motion in relation to the sham investment charges where he had directed and influenced the other appellants, in particular (Chew) Eng Han, to come up with plans when increased funding for the Crossover was needed.”
Chew Eng Han, former CHC fund manager
“As for Eng Han, we find that he employed his wits and financial expertise to mask the reality of the transactions. Although he was not a spiritual leader of CHC, he was trusted when it came to financial matters. His sentences for the sham investment charges should thus only be slightly lower than Kong Hee’s. He was also the mastermind behind the round-tripping transactions and was the most culpable of the appellants who were charged for the round-tripping charges and account falsification charges.”
Tan Ye Peng, Deputy Senior Pastor of CHC
“Like Kong Hee, Ye Peng was a spiritual leader in CHC though the trust and authority reposed in him by CHC’s members was not as great as those reposed in Kong Hee.
That said, we note that he was not the main mastermind behind the sham investment charges or the round-tripping charges. Therefore, his sentences should be slightly lower than the sentences imposed on Kong Hee for the sham investment charges and on Eng Han for the round-tripping charges and the account falsification charges.”
Serina Wee, former CHC finance manager
“Serina, we agree with the Judge that her sentences in respect of the CBT Charges should generally be lower than those imposed on the others because she was less culpable. Unlike Kong Hee and Ye Peng, Serina was not a spiritual leader of the church. While she was the administrator of the Crossover and helped out with the accounts and the documentation, she is less culpable than Eng Han as she did not devise the illicit bonds or the round-tripping transactions.”
John Lam, former CHC board member
“In our judgment, the culpability of John Lam, who was involved to a relatively limited (though important) extent and only at some junctures, is lower than that of Serina, Eng Han and Ye Peng. He was also involved only in the Xtron and Firna bond transactions and played no role in the round-tripping transactions.”
Sharon Tan, former CHC finance manager
“We note that Sharon was at no point a leader of CHC, the Crossover or the illegal transactions.
For this reason, we agree with Sharon that her culpability in respect of the round-tripping and the account falsification charges should not be pegged to that of Ye Peng. While she may have been more directly involved in the round-tripping transactions than he was, the fact remains that she was only an employee, and was merely carrying out the decisions and instructions of the decision-makers in CHC. Therefore, in respect of both categories of charges, we sentence her to a considerably lower sentence than the other appellants.
Following from that, the sentences imposed on each of the appellants are also reduced as we have just stated. Accordingly, the appeals brought by the appellants against the sentences are allowed to the extent stated above, and the appeals brought by the Prosecution against the sentences are dismissed.”