SINGAPORE: Former City Harvest Church fund manager Chew Eng Han was arrested on Wednesday morning (Feb 21) for attempting to flee the country in a sampan, the police said at a news conference.
The 57-year-old, one of six church leaders convicted in 2015 of misappropriating S$50 million of church funds, had been out on bail and was due to turn himself in on Thursday to begin his jail term.
Another man, 53-year-old Tan Poh Teck, who was piloting the motorised sampan, was also arrested.
In a split decision by the High Court last April, Chew had his original six-year jail sentence lowered to three years and four months. Chew is the only one of the six who has not started serving his jail term for criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts.
Three Police Coast Guard boats intercepted the motorised sampan in the sea off Pulau Ubin at about 8.45am on Wednesday after acting on a tip-off. About S$5,000 and fishing equipment was found on the boat.
The two men in the boat said they were going fishing when they were surrounded by the Police Coast Guard vessels about 2.4km away from the Pulau Ubin jetty, Channel NewsAsia understands. However, preliminary police investigations suggest the boat was headed to Malaysia.
It is understood that the two did not resist arrest.
Chew is currently held in the police lock-up in Cantonment Complex. He will be charged in court on Thursday morning.
He faces one charge under the Immigration Act of attempting to leave Singapore unlawfully at an unauthorised point of departure. If convicted, he faces up to six months’ jail and a fine of up to S$2,000.
For abetment, Tan could be jailed for six months to two years and fined up to S$6,000.
Police also arrested a third man, 61-year-old Chew Eng Soon, on Wednesday at 3.40pm for abetting the offence. It is understood that he is Chew Eng Han's brother. He may be jailed between six months and two years, and fined up to S$6,000 if found guilty.
Church founder Kong Hee, 52; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44; former finance manager Serina Wee, 40; former finance committee member John Lam, 49; and former finance manager Sharon Tan, 41, started their respective jail terms on Apr 21 last year.
Chew, who was also supposed to start his jail term on that day, asked the court to defer his sentence until after a Court of Appeal case brought by the prosecution to clarify the law under which the six of them were convicted.
The High Court granted Chew, who was representing himself, the deferment so he would have time to conduct research and access the resources to conduct his own defence.
Chew also tried on two occasions to challenge his conviction.
The apex court rejected his first attempt last July after his effort of referring nearly 60 questions did not meet the required threshold. In September, the apex court threw out his second.
And when the Court of Appeal earlier this month upheld the High Court’s decision to convict the six of less serious criminal breach of trust charges, Chew asked to defer his sentence for one last time to spend Chinese New Year with his family.
When asked if Chew had his passport at the time of arrest, Police Coast Guard commander Senior Assistant Commissioner of Police (SAC) Hsu Sin Yun said: "For investigative matters I will not be able to comment too much at this point of time."