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City Harvest Church accused defends himself

Former investment manager of City Harvest Church Chew Eng Han conducted his own defence in court on Wednesday (July 16) after discharging his lawyer two months ago.

SINGAPORE: Former investment manager of City Harvest Church Chew Eng Han conducted his own defence in court on Wednesday (July 16) after discharging his lawyer two months ago.

Chew is one of six church leaders accused of misusing millions in church monies and is the only one without legal representation.

In May, Chew discharged his lawyer -- Senior Counsel Michael Khoo. He said he was doing so out of personal conviction and that he would represent himself.

Cross-examining his co-accused former church board member John Lam from the dock, Chew attempted to poke holes in his evidence. Pointing to an email from 2002, Chew said that contrary to Lam's evidence, it was not his idea to set up Xtron Productions to manage the pop music career of Sun Ho, wife of church founder Kong Hee.

Kong and his five deputies are accused of using millions of church dollars to buy sham bonds from Xtron and Firna -- a glass manufacturer -- to bankroll her career. The court heard from Lam over the past two days that the idea for the church to invest in those bonds was proposed by Chew.

On Wednesday (July 16), defence counsel for the church's finance manager Sharon Tan, Mr Kannan Ramesh, argued that it was also Chew who proposed how these bonds could be restructured so they could be taken off the church's books.

Lawyers for the accused had previously argued that the City Harvest Church Board had acted on the advice of auditor Sim Guan Seng to "keep it simple" on matters regarding its bond investments in the two companies. Bond restructuring would have been one option to keep them off the books.

Lam said he recalled Chew drawing a diagram about this on a whiteboard during a meeting in July 2009.

In giving his defence, Chew also gave evidence of how in the late 1990s, he had invested S$2.2 million of the church's surplus funds into a single stock, which yielded returns of S$550,000 four to five years later.

Earlier in the day, Lam told the court that as a founding member of the church, he would never intentionally do anything to harm it. He went as far as to say that he had served the church sometimes even to the detriment of his family and his career.

Lam also explained why he signed a "secret letter" between the church and Firna, which is owned by Indonesian businessman and longtime church member Wahju Hanafi.

The church was given a personal guarantee from Mr Hanafi in the event the Indonesian failed to redeem the church-Firna bonds. A requirement under that agreement was that the church could convert the bonds issued by Mr Hanafi into shares in Firna if he failed to pay the church back.

But Mr Hanafi's father-in-law, who held 20 per cent of the company, was reluctant to agree as he felt it would dilute his shares in the company. As such, the secret letter was drafted which stated that the church would sell back the shares to Mr Hanafi and his father-in-law, at a nominal value of US$1, in the event the bonds were converted into shares.

Lam explained that he signed the letter because Mr Hanafi had assured Chew Eng Han that he had no intention of enforcing or using the letter, and wanted it only for the purpose of appeasing his father-in-law.

He also said the convertibility feature of the bond into shares was a "non-issue" for him, as Firna's core business did not align with CHC's missions and objectives. 

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