Court of Appeal has ordered that former City Harvest Church leader Chew Eng Han is to start serving his jail term for the misappropriation of church funds on 1 March, once Chew’s one-week remand period expires, at an urgent hearing on Tuesday (27 February) morning.
The apex court ordered, however, that if a district judge orders Chew’s further remand to facilitate ongoing investigations into his attempt to flee the country, his sentence is to commence immediately upon the expiry of such further remand.
Chew was arrested on last Wednesday morning (21 February) for attempting to flee the country in a motorised sampan piloted by boatman and fish farm owner Tan Poh Teck..
The Police Coast Guard intercepted the motorised sampan in the sea off Pulau Ubin, an unauthorised point of departure, at about 8.47 am on Wednesday and about S$5,000 and fishing equipment was found on the boat.
Chew was on bail of S$1 million. He was convicted in 2015 of misappropriating S$50 million of church funds and was due turn himself in and begin his jail term of three years and four months on Thursday (22 February).
The sampan was intercepted by the coast guard about 2.4km away from Pulau Ubin following a tip-off. They had claimed to be on a fishing trip when they were arrested.
Chew was charged on Thursday with fleeing the country to Malaysia, while, Tan was charged with abetment. Both men will appear at the State Courts on 1 March.
Meanwhile, Chew Eng Soon, Chew’s elder brother, 61, was arrested on Wednesday afternoon. Authorities alleged him for abetting his brother to flee the country. He has not yet been charged.
Another 45-year-old Malaysian man, Khoo Kea Leng, was also arrested in Johor Baru recently with the help of the Royal Malaysia Police after the State Courts in Singapore issued a warrant of arrest. He will be charged in Singapore on Wednesday.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Zhongshan had urged the apex court to order that Chew’s sentence commence when he’s produced in the State Courts and when the District Judge does not order his further remand, saying that Chew’s current predicament is of his own doing, and he should not be allowed to start serving his sentence while investigations into a separate offence are ongoing.
He also said that that the police needed access to Chew, who is in remand at the Central Police Division.
Chew’s lawyer Jonathan Phipps told the court that the time should start to be counted since Chew is behind bars currently and that on that day (the day he was to surrender).
Rejecting his argument, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang, saying, “Yes, he was in court, but not because of a volitional act of surrender on his part.”