SINGAPORE: It is one of the longest-running criminal cases in Singapore as the trial, which began in May 2013 at the State Courts, went on for more than 140 days.
In October 2015, all six City Harvest Church leaders, including pastor Kong Hee, were found guilty of misappropriating about S$50 million of church funds.
They had argued that they should be acquitted and on Friday morning (Apr 7), they will learn the outcome of their appeal against both the conviction and sentences.
The hearing, which will begin at 9.30am, is the culmination of a five-day appeal heard in September last year by a three-judge panel, including Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn.
Also to be decided on Friday is the outcome of another six appeals brought by the prosecution who argued that the High Court should increase the jail terms for each of the six co-accused.
The City Harvest case is unprecedented. The S$50 million taken from the mega-church’s coffers is the largest amount of charity funds ever misappropriated in Singapore.
The money was used to bankroll the secular music career of the pastor’s wife Sun Ho, without the knowledge of the congregation which is made up of tens of thousands of worshippers who had donated the millions of dollars to the church.
The case is unprecedented also because the millions were “replaced” through a series of sham investments and shady transactions, and the church ultimately suffered no financial loss.
“If this is the largest amount going out the door, it is also unprecedented in that it is the largest amount coming back,” Kong's lawyer Jason Chan had said.
Still, the actions of Kong and the five co-accused were criminal - they effectively took City Harvest Church’s funds into their own hands to use as they pleased, despite them being plainly not authorised to do so, a judge had said.
Although the congregation largely supported Sun Ho’s secular music career - through the church's Crossover Project which aimed to use her music to evangelise - they had no idea that they were footing the bill.
A total of S$24 million of church funds diverted into sham investments was used to bankroll Ms Ho’s budding career and extravagant lifestyle. Another S$26 million of church funds was used to cover up the first amount to fool auditors and to conceal the fact that money from the church’s building fund - a restricted fund set aside for building-related expenses - had been used for an unauthorised purpose.
WHAT PROSECUTORS ARE SEEKING
If the High Court decides in the prosecution’s favour, the sentences of the six could be increased. The prosecution had argued for the following:
Kong Hee: 8 years to 11 to 12 years’ jail
Tan Ye Peng: 5 and a half years to 11 to 12 years’ jail
Chew Eng Han: 6 years to 11 to 12 years’ jail
Serina Wee Gek Yin: 5 years to 11 to 12 years’ jail
John Lam Leng Hung: 3 years to 8 to 9 years’ jail
Sharon Tan Shao Yuen: 21 months to 5 to 6 years’ jail
However, Friday's decision may not be the end of the saga. Either side may apply to refer a question of law to the Court of Appeal.