Singapore Police Force (SPF) has announced that former City Harvest Church fund manager Chew Eng Han was arrested on Wednesday morning (21 February) for attempting to flee the country in a motorised sampan.
Chew, 57, one of six church leaders convicted in 2015 of misappropriating S$50 million of church funds, was due turn himself in and begin his jail term of three years and four months on Thursday.
In a split decision by the High Court last April, Chew had his original six-year jail sentence lowered for his role in the largest case of misuse of charitable funds in Singapore’s history.
Chew is the only one of the six others who has not started the jail term yet as he has been on bail as he sought multiple deferments pending the Court of Appeal’s final decision.
The police, who gave a briefing on Wednesday afternoon at the Loyang Police Coast Guard Base, gave details of Chew’s arrest. He said that the Police Coast Guard intercepted the motorised sampan in the sea off Pulau Ubin at about 8.47 am on Wednesday and about S$5,000 and fishing equipment was found on the boat.
Chew, who is married with two children aged 17 and 27, was on board with a 53-year-old Tan Poh Teck. He was piloting the sampan.
Preliminary investigations suggest that the duo were trying to leave Singapore illegally from Pulau Ubin to Malaysia.
Both men have been arrested for attempting to leave Singapore unlawfully at Unauthorised Point of Departure under Chapter 133 of the Immigration Act. Those found guilty of this offence could face a maximum fine of $2,000 or a maximum jail term of six months, or both.
The police also arrested a Chew Eng Soon, 61, at about 3.40pm on Wednesday for abetting the offence. Those convicted of abetting an offence can face a maximum fine of $6,000 and a maximum jail term of six months.
Chew was a member of the church since 2013 and was previously the church board’s vice-president and treasurer, serving on the finance committee from 2006 to 2007, and is one of two principal shareholders of investment firm Amac Capital Partners.
He left the board after Amac was appointed as the church’s fund manager.
Chew was also a director of music production company Xtron Productions from 2003 to 2004.
The six CHC leaders had transferred $24 million from the church’s building fund into Xtron and glass maker Firna in the form of sham bonds, to fund the popstar career of Kong’s wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.
The six allegedly misused a further $26 million to cover up the misdeed.
Chew left the church completely in 2013. He told the court that one reason for his departure was because Kong deceived the people closest to him.
The church filed a civil suit against Amac and Chew for almost $21 million in unreturned investments.
Chew then took the stand during the long-running trial in 2015, conducting his own defence. He said that he was responsible for the structuring of the financial instrument but not the usage of the proceeds.
He then said that that if any funds had been misused as alleged, the blame lay with other church leaders who had discretion over how the money was spent.
Chew then showed the court the e-mails and mobile text messages to establish that Kong, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, and former finance manager Serina Wee were the key decision makers of the allocation of money.
Chew also stated that he and his family had donated $1 million to the church, saying, “I’m not a taker to the church. I’m a giver, and thieves don’t give to the owners of the property.”
Church founder Kong Hee, 52; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44; former finance manager Serina Wee, 40; former finance committee member John Lam, 49; and former finance manager Sharon Tan, 41, started their respective jail terms on 21 April last year.
Chew was also supposed to start his jail term on that day, however, he asked the court to defer his sentence until after a Court of Appeal case brought by the prosecution to clarify the law under which the six of them were convicted.
The High Court granted Chew the deferment so he would have time to conduct research and access the resources to conduct his own defence.
Chew also tried on two occasions to challenge his conviction. However, the apex court rejected his first attempt last July after his effort of referring nearly 60 questions did not meet the required threshold and the apex court threw out his second in September.
He also asked to defer his sentence for one last time to spend Chinese New Year with his family when the Court of Appeal earlier this month upheld the High Court’s decision to convict the six of less serious criminal breach of trust charges.
Lawyers stated that the act of absconding is not a separate criminal offence in Singapore, unlike in the United States and Britain. However, when an accused person jumps bail, the bail money will be usually forfeited unless the bailor is able to convince the court otherwise.