SINGAPORE: The Government believes the City Harvest Church (CHC) sentences are too low, and will move to ensure legislation provides for higher penalties for senior officers who commit criminal breaches of trust (CBT), said Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam on Monday (Feb 5) in Parliament.
He was reflecting the Government's position on the apex court’s decision last week to uphold shorter jail terms for CHC founder Kong Hee and five other former church leaders accused of misusing church funds amounting to millions.
This resulted from a new interpretation of the Penal Code section governing CBT offences, which led to the Court of Appeal ruling that company directors, governing board members or key officers of charities and officers of societies who commit CBT could be jailed up to seven years - compared to employees being liable for a maximum 15 years imprisonment.
The Court of Appeal subsequently called for a policy review of CBT legislation and the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) said it would work with relevant ministries to do so.
Said Mr Shanmugam: “The Government’s policy is clear: If you are a senior officer, director in the organisation, you are in a position of greater trust. You have considerable authority to make decisions in relation to the organisation’s assets. If you abuse that trust, you should be more culpable, and you should be liable for more severe punishments, compared with an ordinary employee.”
“That's really common sense, and there can be no question about that.”
“It is now up to Parliament to amend the law,” he added. “And that we should do, soon. We hope to make the amendment together with the other wide ranging amendments to the Penal Code.”
“LET’S NOT ATTACK THE JUDGES”
Mr Shanmugam also addressed public dissatisfaction with the outcome, noting that “expressing one’s unhappiness with court decisions is fine – but it should not sink to the level of abuse, insult and contempt”.
“We have seen comments online that the judges let off those who are rich; that some judges were lenient because they were Christians and so on,” he said.
“This is not right. Judges should not be personally attacked, their integrity impugned, just because people do not agree with their decision … People are entitled to disagree with the decision. But let’s not attack the judges.”
Added Mr Shanmugam: “The sentences reflect the law as it stands ... The Courts decide these matters. All of us have to respect the decision, regardless of whether we agree or disagree with it.”
Later, Chua Chu Kang Member of Parliament Yee Chia Hsing asked if the Government would also consider penalising beneficiaries of CBT cases. He noted that Kong Hee’s wife Sun Ho - whose pop-singing career was a key recipient of the misused church funds - had not been charged for any offence.
“One has got to be careful about this,” said Mr Shanmugam in reply. “A beneficiary who receives proceeds without the appropriate knowledge does not automatically become a criminal.
“Supposing the person took the money and donated to another charity - does the recipient commit a criminal offence? We need to be careful,” he said.
“The law as drafted, it’s wide enough to deal with people who act with criminal intention and conduct and misuse property. But knowing receipt of property, to the extent it needs to be criminalised - you will find it in the law.”