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CHC trial: Claims of risk-taking as accused cross swords

Former City Harvest Church investment manager Chew Eng Han crossed swords with co-accused John Lam, saying that an alleged meeting between the two "never happened".

SINGAPORE: Former City Harvest Church investment manager Chew Eng Han crossed swords with co-accused John Lam for a second day on Thursday (July 17), pointing to significant parts of Lam's testimony which he said were not true.

Both are among the six church leaders accused of using millions of church dollars to buy sham bonds to bankroll the pop music career of Sun Ho -- wife of church founder Kong Hee.

When he took the stand on Monday (July 14), former church board member John Lam singled out Chew Eng Han as the man who suggested the church invest in the bonds.

Lam said in June 2007, Chew asked to meet him and proposed to be the church's fund manager as he was setting up his own fund management company.

On Thursday (July 17), Chew, who is conducting his own defence after discharging his lawyer, said such a meeting "never happened" and produced evidence to show he was in Japan at that time. He also pointed to emails between some of the accused to show the idea to invest in the bonds had not been conceptualised then.

In addition, Chew said it was not true that he set up his firm specifically to manage the church's funds. Emails showed that Chew had informed Kong Hee that he wanted to set up his own firm because it was his dream, and personal career decision, and had done so in April 2007.

Chew noted that this was well before the decision was made to invest in the bonds.

He also pointed out that the church's investment into Xtron bonds had a mission objective, as this would go to funding the Crossover Project and that it was Kong Hee who oversaw all spiritual matters.

"A fund manager has no expertise in spiritual matters. You cannot engage a fund manager to assess the missions benefit of the church," Chew said.

- Penchant for risk -

Over the past couple of days, the point of risk-taking being inherent in the church's DNA has been brought up -- pointing to its investments, mission plans, and even the design and construction of its building in Jurong West.

Chew said the church was told that because it was digging eight storeys below ground level for the building's auditorium, there was a risk that surrounding HDB flats could collapse. Thus, experts, technicians and engineers were called in by the church.

The auditorium also does not have any columns to support it, which is a risk -- according to Chew -- when there are some 2,000 people gathered in that room for worship on weekends.

"The danger is that you have a whole load of the building… above the ground level with its weight pressing down, all the way down eight storeys, and that's where we have 2,000 people worshipping every Saturday, Sunday, without any columns supporting it. There is some form of risk," added Chew.

In response to Chew's point that City Harvest Church has always been risk-takers, Lam said: "I already said in my evidence that I had confidence in Pastor Kong that he has never failed in any projects, any major projects so far."

This penchant for risk was also reinforced by defence counsel N Sreenivasan, who is acting for senior pastor Tan Ye Peng.

He pointed to various examples to show that the church has always "thought big, and taken the shot buoyed by their beliefs and continue to do so".

"Saying that your pastor's wife is going to be a star in the US is also something most people will not do. Believing that you are going to achieve certain things is something most of us who…make all decisions rationally do not do," said Mr Sreenivasan, adding that this could be part of the church's thought process.

Lam will be cross-examined by the prosecution on Friday (July 18). Church founder Kong Hee will take the stand in his defence when the trial resumes in August. 

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