SINGAPORE: Requests by former City Harvest Church leaders Chew Eng Han and Sharon Tan regarding the starting of their sentences were granted by the High Court on Wednesday (Apr 19), two days before Chew was due to begin serving his three-year-and-four-month sentence.
Chew, who was supposed to start his jail term on Friday, asked the court to defer his sentence until after a Court of Appeal case brought by the prosecution to clarify the law under which he and five other church leaders were convicted.
He also said he plans to take his case to the apex court, and is expected to apply for leave to refer a question of law to the Court of Appeal by May 5.
The High Court granted Chew, who is representing himself, the deferment so he will have time to conduct research and access the resources to conduct his own defence.
Chew, along with church founder Kong Hee, deputy pastor Tan Ye Peng, former finance committee member John Lam, and former finance managers Serina Wee and Sharon Tan, were convicted in 2015 of misappropriating S$50 million of church funds.
Chew was sentenced to six years in jail, but the High Court on Apr 7 reduced it to three years and four months after an appeal. The other church leaders similarly had their sentences reduced.
However, the prosecution said on Apr 10 that it was referring the case to the Court of Appeal to clarify the law.
After the revised sentences were announced, Chew and four of the other church leaders asked for their sentences to start after two weeks, and the court agreed.
SHARON TAN'S DECISION TO START SENTENCE EARLY A 'TACTICAL' ONE: PROSECUTOR
Sharon Tan was also in court on Wednesday, but with a different application.
She had initially been granted a two-month deferment to June, citing her family's plans to relocate to the United States, but changed her mind and requested to start her seven-month sentence on Friday.
Her lawyer, Mr Paul Seah, said she wanted to finish serving the sentence - which was cut from 21 months initially - as soon as possible so she can be reunited with her husband and three children.
But the prosecution, led by deputy public prosecutor Christopher Ong, objected.
Mr Ong called Tan's decision to start her sentence earlier a "tactical" one, pointing out that the Court of Appeal's decision was pending.
There was a real possibility, the prosecutor said, that Tan would have served her sentence and joined her family in the US by the time the case was heard by the apex court.
"(Then) the Court of Appeal’s hands would be tied. Even if they decide to reinstate her 21-month sentence, she would be out of the country," he said.
Mr Seah rejected the prosecution's argument, saying that Tan would agree to remain in Singapore until the apex court’s decision even though she would likely have completed her stint by that time.
The lawyer said the benefit of Tan starting her jail term earlier was that if the Court of Appeal reinstated Tan’s original sentence of 21 months, her ultimate release date would be sooner since she would have already served part of her sentence.
In court, Mr Seah even offered to hand over Tan’s passport, but the prosecutor said the agreement is “legally unenforceable”.
“We don’t have the power to take her passport. We are in a bind," he said.
The High Court – calling the prosecution’s attempt to block Tan from serving her sentence earlier “rather strange” – agreed to Tan’s request on the condition that she promised to remain in Singapore until the apex court’s decision and to serve a second stint in prison if the court reinstated her sentence.
Mr Seah agreed to these terms and said he would state these in a letter to the court as well as the prosecution.
Tan will now start her jail term on Friday, together with Kong, Wee, Lam and Tan Ye Peng.