SINGAPORE: The Malaysian man accused of helping former City Harvest Church leader Chew Eng Han flee Singapore in February was on Thursday (Apr 12) sentenced to six months in jail.
Khoo Kea Leng, 45, pleaded guilty to one charge under the Immigration Act.
He had collected S$8,000 in cash from Chew on Feb 20 as partial payment for helping him skip town to avoid serving jail time. The plan was for Chew, 57, to flee to Malaysia, according to court documents.
Khoo was then a freelance driver who ferried passengers between Singapore and Johor Bahru and other parts of Malaysia.
He had been on bail of S$1 million and was due to turn himself in on Feb 22 to begin a jail term of three years and four months for his part in misappropriating S$50 million of City Harvest Church funds. The fraud is the largest involving a charity in Singapore’s history.
The sampan, piloted by fish farm owner Tan Poh Teck, was intercepted by the Police Coast Guard about 2.4km away from Pulau Ubin after a tip-off.
KHOO OFFERED TO HELP CHEW LEAVE SINGAPORE IN CAR BOOT
The court heard that Chew had met Khoo at Queen Street in Oct 2017 and asked if the latter could take him to Johor Bahru illegally.
Khoo replied that he was unable to, but offered to check with a friend’s “uncle” who might be able to help.The two exchanged contact numbers and Khoo asked Chew for some cash as pre-payment for his assistance. Chew gave Khoo S$200.
According to Deputy Public Prosecutor Vincent Ong, Khoo called Chew a day after they met and offered to help Chew leave Singapore for S$18,000, by hiding him in the boot of a car. Chew deemed the price too high and declined the offer, but continued to remain in contact with Khoo.
On Feb 20 this year, Chew contacted Khoo again to see if he had any contacts who could help him leave Singapore illegally.
Khoo asked his friend, Tan Kim Ho, also known as Rayson, if he knew anyone who could transport people out of Singapore illegally.
Rayson, who is Malaysian, said he could arrange for someone to leave Singapore illegally by boat for S$8,000.
Khoo conveyed the message to Chew, and they agreed on a price of S$12,000.
Of this S$12,000, Khoo would keep S$4,000 for himself and give S$4,000 to Rayson. The remaining S$4,000 was for the boatman who would convey Chew to Malaysia.
Later in the evening of Feb 20, Chew met Khoo in the vicinity of Block 75 Marine Drive to discuss escape plans. Chew also gave S$8,000 in cash to Khoo that evening.
Khoo then used Chew’s mobile phone to call Rayson, who instructed Chew to prepare a cap and fishing equipment to make it seem as if he was going fishing, in order to avoid detection.
Khoo also suggested that Chew buy a fishing rod and some fishing equipment from Mustafa Shopping Centre.
Following that, Khoo left Singapore via the Woodlands Checkpoint and gave S$4,000 to Rayson in Johor Bahru. Rayson remains at large.
FISH FARM OWNER WAS PROMISED S$1,000 TO FERRY CHEW FROM PULAU UBIN
Separately, fish farm owner Tan received a call from a person known as “Lao Bai”, instructing him to pick Chew up from Changi Village on Feb 21 and send him to the northeast part of the sea off Pulau Ubin.
The plan was for Chew to then get onto “Lao Bai’s” boat and proceed illegally to Malaysia.
If the plan was successful, Tan would be paid S$1,000. Tan agreed and called Chew, telling him to meet him at Changi Village at 7.30am on Feb 21.
On Feb 21, Chew’s older brother, Eng Soon, ferried him to Changi Village, where the two parted ways. Tan called Chew and told him to meet at the main jetty of Pulau Ubin instead, as there were police craft patrolling the area.
In order to avoid detection, Chew took a bumboat to Pulau Ubin, where he was picked up by Tan. After Chew boarded, Tan steered eastwards before he was intercepted by police craft.
The prosecutor called for Khoo to receive at least six months’ imprisonment for his role, noting that he had committed the offence out of greed. He added that Khoo was the “primary enabler” of the offence.
Defence lawyer Sunil Sudhesan did not object. But in mitigation, he pointed out that Khoo, who was unemployed at that time, was a single parent of two young daughters and had an elderly parent to take care of.
“By virtue of his situation, he was swayed by the money on offer,” he said. “He is very sorry for giving in to his moment of weakness, and certainly accepts responsibility for what he has done.”
For helping Chew to flee the country, Khoo could be sentenced between six months and two years’ jail and fined up to S$6,000.
Tan, who has also been charged, faces three charges of helping people to flee Singapore illegally in his fishing boat.
Chew, who is represented by Mr Jonathan Phipps, and Tan will next appear in court on May 3 for a pre-trial conference. Eng Soon has not been charged.