CHC leaders loved their church, did everything in good faith, says lawyer
They were a bunch of leaders who loved their church and had done everything in good faith.
So much so that they put their hands into wherever their money was going into to keep it safe, said Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, who is representing City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee, yesterday.
Kong, 52, and five other church leaders were back in the courts yesterday as they began their appeal against their convictions and sentences for misappropriating more than $50 million of church funds.
First, $24 million was misused to fund the music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, via two "shell companies". Another $26.6 million was later used to cover up that amount.
The six were jailed for between 21 months and eight years in November.
The prosecution also lodged appeals - calling the sentences "manifestly inadequate" - for the case involving the largest amount of charity funds ever misappropriated here.
Yesterday, Mr Tong - on behalf of Kong, who was found guilty of three charges for conspiracy to commit criminal breach of trust and sentenced to eight years' jail - presented his case to a three-judge panel.
Mr Tong said the CHC founder had been so meticulous and careful with the budgeting for his wife's English album that he even rectified mistakes made by American producer Justin Herz in the projections.
He said this was even noted by State Courts Presiding Judge See Kee Oon in his judgment last year.
"How does that sit with someone who is dishonest?" asked Mr Tong.
He said that Kong acted as a guardian of the church funds.
Mr Tong also submitted that the six leaders had regularly consulted lawyers and auditors to ensure their dealings were above board.
For example, they often consulted auditor Foong Daw Ching about the bond investments into music production company Xtron and glass-maker Firna - which the prosecution labelled as sham investments to channel money to Ms Ho's singing career.
Said Mr Tong: "(Would the) conduct of dishonest persons be to go back to the one person who could pick out problems?
"Which dishonest person... (would) go back for a second time to an auditor to ask if bonds are above board?"
Yesterday's session was heard before Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn. Ms Ho was in the public gallery. The session continues today.
Others who are appealing
TAN YE PENG, 43
Deputy senior pastor at City Harvest Church.
Five and a half years' jail for six counts of criminal breach of trust (CBT) and four of falsifying accounts.
Prosecution asked for 11 to 12 years' jail
CHEW ENG HAN, 56
Former church investment manager and former church stalwart who served as vice-president and treasurer of the CHC board.
Six years' jail for six counts of CBT and four of falsification of accounts.
Prosecution asked for 11 to 12 years' jail.
SERINA WEE GEK YIN, 39
Former finance manager of the church until August 2007, and administrator of the Crossover Project.
Five years' jail for six counts of CBT and four of falsifying accounts.
Prosecution asked for 11 to 12 years' jail.
SHARON TAN SHAO YUEN, 40
Succeeded Wee as finance manager of the church.
Twenty-one months' jail for three counts of CBT and four of falsification of accounts.
Prosecution asked for five to six years.
Timeline of events
1989: City Harvest Church (CHC) founded.
2003: Music production company Xtron set up to manage Ms Ho Yeow Sun and Crossover Project.
2002 - 2007: Ms Ho releases five Mandarin albums.
2007: CHC invests $13 million into Xtron bonds. This was amended to a total of up to $25 million in August 2008.
2008: Another bond - this time into glass manufacturer Firna - is arranged, with up to $11 million.
2009: Church auditor Sim Guan Seng allegedly tells church leaders he "doesn't like the bonds" and wanted them off CHC's books. Through a series of transactions involving rental agreements and new investments, fresh funds from church are used to offset bonds.
2010: Kong Hee and 16 others picked up by police to assist in investigations.
2012: Six accused charged in court with varying charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying documents.
May 2013: Trial of six accused starts in State Courts.
November 2015: Six accused jailed between 21 months and eight years after 143-day trial.
September 2016: Appeal for six accused starts.