SINGAPORE: Singapore's highest court on Wednesday (Sep 6) rejected former City Harvest Church fund manager Chew Eng Han's second attempt to challenge his conviction for criminal breach of trust, calling it "an abuse of process and devoid of merit".
Chew, 57, is one of six church leaders convicted in 2015 of misappropriating S$50 million of church funds.
He had his original six-year jail sentence lowered to three years and four months, in a split decision by the High Court in April 2017, and is the only one of the six who has not started his jail term.
On Aug 1, Chew filed a criminal motion seeking permission to refer a question of law of public interest to the Court of Appeal. He urged the court to consider the question of whether his conviction amounted to a violation of his constitutional rights.
Chew argued that his case was "unique" and "unprecedented", because it was the first time that the courts have convicted someone of criminal breach of trust for misusing funds for the purpose and benefit of the owner - in this case the church - instead of to line his or her own pockets.
In doing so, Chew said that the court had violated his constitutional rights under Article 11 of the constitution, which states that "no person shall be punished for an act ... which was not punishable by law when it was done".
Chew argued that he should not be retrospectively incriminated or punished for putting the church's money to "wrong use", when he had a "legitimate expectation" at the time that he was not running afoul of the law since the funds were being used for the church's benefit.
"The most important point (here) is that this is (Chew's) second such application," prosecutors said in court on Wednesday. They accused Chew of "drip-feeding" the court his applications in an attempt to "prolong this matter and delay his entry into prison," Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong said.
He also called Chew's argument that his conviction had violated his constitutional rights "absurd". "There is a distinction to be drawn between new law and new facts," the prosecutor explained. "Based on (Chew's) logic, if someone were to commit murder by poison for the first time ... should he be let go?"
APPLICATION IS "AN ABUSE OF PROCESS": JUDGES OF APPEAL
After an hour-long hearing, the Court of Appeal, comprising Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Judith Prakash and Justice Quentin Loh, threw out Chew's application, calling it an "abuse of process". They added that no one can be allowed to "drip-feed his application" to indefinitely prolong the process via "back-door" appeals.
Since Chew's first application had addressed the point, he should not be allowed to "rehash the question he posed in his previous application," they said.
The judges added that the "abusiveness of the application (was) also reflected in its utter lack of merit" and that the application had "no prospect of success".
Chew's argument was based on a "clear misreading of the decisions of the courts below", they said.
"The courts below had considered (this case) 'unique' because, unlike other cases, the accused persons were not motivated by personal gain and had acted according to what they thought would ultimately have advanced the interests of CHC.
"But the courts made it clear that this had no bearing on their determination as to whether the accused persons should be convicted," the judges said, pointing to the High Court's unanimous decision to uphold Chew's conviction for criminal breach of trust, albeit differing on which section of the law he should have been convicted under. A decision by the Court of Appeal is pending in this case.
In any case, the High Court's judgement to uphold Chew's conviction is "final and authoritative on these issues," the judges said.
In rejecting Chew's application, the judges said they saw "no basis for leave to be granted to bring this or any further criminal references on the same subject matter".
"Such applications would be nothing more than a blatant abuse of process and will not be entertained by this court."