On Wednesday, December 12, former City Harvest Church leader and fund manager Chew Eng Han has been convicted of trying to defeat the course of justice and attempting to leave Singapore via motorized sampan on February 21 of this year, one day before serving his jail sentence.
Along with five other individual others, Chew was convicted for participating in the biggest case of misuse of charitable funds that the country has ever seen, including criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts involving more than S$50 million in church funds.
After having received permission to spend Chinese New Year with his family early in February, Chew was captured at sea on February 21 and then charged with trying to avoid serving his sentence and attempting to leave Singapore for Malaysia unlawfully at an unauthorized point of departure, the Pulau Ubin Jetty.
Adrian Wee of Characterist LLC, Chew’s lawyer, will attempt to obtain a lighter sentence for Chew. Although Wee admitted that what his client did was “misguided and ethically wrong,” “starting at the end and working backwards” would not determine whether Chew’s conduct was criminal.
Wee explained that the Police Coast Guard who received a tip and arrested Chew believed that Chew was going to go into Malaysian territory. But the truth of the matter, the lawyer said, was that Chew was going toward some fishing villages near Pulau Ubin, which is still part of Singapore’s territory.
While Chew had planned to leave the country since the idea of serving his prison term was a painful one, he recognized that this was a “terrible mistake.”
Yee said, “The accused’s acts up to the point of his arrest (culminating in him being on board the first boat en route to a point B) do not amount to embarking on the crime proper.”
Therefore, the lawyer alleged, it cannot be said that Chew attempted to leave the country.
But Eugene Sng, the Deputy Public Prosecutor assigned to the case, said that even though Chew was not on board a boat that would ultimately take him to Malaysia, he was already carrying out his plan to leave the country.
According to Sng, determining that a person is guilty of attempting to leave a country only if he or she is already on the vessel that would take him or her abroad is “misconceived.”
Chew’s three-year and four-month jail term, which he was supposed to have served starting February 22 of this year, may more than doubled, given that a jail term of three and a half years could be imposed on him for his attempt to intentionally defeat the course of justice. As for attempting to leave the country, Chew faces a possible S$2000 fine, a six-month jail term, or both penalties.
There are three other people involved in Chew’s escape attempt. Tan Poh Teck, a fish farm owner and boatman, who received a 27-week jail sentence for trying to help Chew leave the country.
Malaysians Khoo Kea Leng, a freelance diver, and Tan Kim Ho, a private tour guide, were sentenced to six months in jail, for their roles in Chew’s escape attempt.
While Chew Eng Soon, the former CHC leader’s older brother, also had a hand in the attempt, he has yet to be charged in court.
Chew Eng Han will be sentenced on January 29.