The High Court has reduced the sentences of all six former City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders on Friday (7 April) in favour of their appeal.
The founder and senior pastor Kong Hee has had his prison sentence reduced to three years and six months from eight years.
As for the others that were charged, former fund manager Chew Eng Han had his six-year sentence reduced to three years and four months, deputy pastor Tan Ye Peng’s sentence was lowered from five-and-a-half-year sentence to three years and two months, former finance manager Serina Wee Gek Yin’s sentence got reduce from five-year sentence to two years and six months, former finance committee member John Lam Leng Hung got a reduced sentence from three-year sentence to one year and six months, and former finance manager Sharon Tan Shao Yuen got her sentence lowered from 21-month jail sentence to seven months.
The hearing was attended by a three-judge panel – Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn.The verdict was finally delivered after the long-running trial which started in 2013.
Kong, Lam, Chew, Wee and Tan Ye asked the court to have their sentences to start in two weeks so they can still celebrate Easter day with their families. The court agreed to this.
Sharon, on the other hand, asked for two months deferment as her family is moving to the United States. She wants to be able to help her child adjust to the new environment. The court also agreed to her request.
Chew has two weeks to consider if he wishes to bring the case up to the apex court.
Last September, all of them appealed against their convictions and sentences in a five-day hearing. Prosecutors also appealed for longer sentences of five to 12 years’ jail for the six former leaders who were convicted of varying counts of criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts at the same time.
During the appeal hearing, prosecutors argued for harsher punishments for the CHC leader because the church members supported the moves by CHC as they were not given “full facts” on the matter.
The project was financed with S$24 million from the church building fund through sham bonds. Another $26 million was used to cover up the first amount to fool auditors and to conceal the fact that money from the church’s building fund had been used for an unauthorised purpose. The case which is apparently the largest amount of charity funds ever misappropriated in Singapore.
Tens of thousands of worshippers had donated the millions of dollars to the church. However, the money was used to bankroll the secular music career of the pastor’s wife Sun Ho, without the knowledge of the congregation.
In the oral statement, Justice Chao stated that the majority decided to reduce the respective criminal breach of trust (CBT) charges against the CHC.
They were initially charged with an aggravated form of CBT. However, the Judges decided to change it to a “simple” form of CBT.
The law states that the person convicted of the charges must be a public servant, banker, merchant, factor, broker, attorney or an agent when committing the crime.
The Judges said, “While a director undoubtedly holds an important position in a company or organisation, it cannot be said that a person by becoming a director has offered his services as an agent to the community at large or that he makes his living as an agent.”
The case is unprecedented as the church suffered no financial loss.
Jason Chan, Kong’s lawyer stated that if this is the largest amount going out the door, it is also unprecedented in that it is the largest amount coming back.
However, the judge stated that the actions of the CHC were criminal as they took the funds into their own hands to use as they pleased, despite them being plainly not authorised to do so.
Most of the congregation supported Ho’s career. However, they were unaware that they were the ones who were funding it.