SINGAPORE: Former City Harvest Church leader Chew Eng Han was on Wednesday (Dec 12) found guilty of trying to escape Singapore and defeat justice.
On the morning of Feb 21, Chew was caught by the Police Coast Guard following a tip-off while trying to leave Singapore illegally from Pulau Ubin.
This was a day before he was due to start serving a jail term of three years and four months for his role in the misappropriation of S$50 million in church funds.
At the time, Chew was allowed his request to start serving his sentence on Feb 22, after the Chinese New Year holiday.
Chew, who has served more than nine months of his original sentence, claimed trial over one charge of attempting to leave Singapore and another of attempting to defeat justice.
District Judge Victor Yeo found Chew guilty, saying he was not persuaded by the defence's arguments that the accused was apprehended too early, and that his actions up to the point of his arrest did not amount to embarking on a crime proper.
The hearing was attended by a handful of people, while a lean Chew listened to the proceedings without expression.
PROSECUTION, DEFENCE TUSSLE OVER TECHNICAL ISSUES
The prosecution said that Chew had made arrangements to leave Singapore illegally and was on the first leg of a journey out of the country, which meant he had "embarked on the crime proper".
Chew was caught while on a boat in Singapore waters, on his way to meet up with a second boat, which he would then board for Malaysia.
Chew's defence lawyer Adrian Wee said that his client was "apprehended too soon" and had not embarked on the crime proper as he was not on the boat that was intending to leave for Malaysia.
He added that Chew "had not completed the act of leaving Singapore", and so could not be said to have tried perverting the course of justice.
Furthermore, the course of justice “had ended when the Court of Appeal rendered its decision on Feb 1 2018”, said Mr Wee. This was when the Apex Court rejected the prosecution's bid to reinstate longer jail terms for the former CHC leaders.
In response, Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong said the course of justice ends only when the sentence has been served.
NOT PERSUADED BY DEFENCE, SAYS JUDGE
In delivering his verdict, the judge said that Chew setting out to sea on the first boat was an inextricable part of his journey out of Singapore.
"By the time the accused embarked on the first boat, he was clearly on his way to leaving Singapore from an unauthorised place," he said.
"I am not persuaded by the defence's arguments. With due respect to the learned counsel, the arguments would require the court to adopt an overly narrow view," said the judge.
He added that "drawing such fine distinctions would result in an illogical outcome in which an accused person who designs an elaborate escape plan with multiple legs of the journey ... would evade liability".
The judge also agreed with the prosecution that the course of justice continues even after sentences have been passed and appeals exhausted, rejecting the defence's argument that it had ended after the final appeal.
READ: From legal battles to failed escape bid: The twists and turns of Chew Eng Han’s City Harvest case
Five other City Harvest leaders who were sentenced alongside Chew for the misuse of church funds started serving their sentences in April last year.
Two men who helped Chew in his attempt to escape Singapore by boat were sentenced to jail in July.
Tan Poh Teck, 53, the boatman piloting the motorised sampan in Chew's escape bid, was sentenced to 27 weeks' jail.
He had intended to take Chew to the northeastern part of Pulau Ubin, where Chew would take another boat.
Tan Kim Ho, a 42-year-old Malaysian man also known as Rayson, who made arrangements for Chew to get to Malaysia by boat, was sentenced to a jail term of six months.
Another man, Malaysian driver Khoo Kea Leng, was jailed for six months in April for his role in the escape plan. He had linked Chew up with Rayson.