October 21, 2015 was the date Singapore’s wealthiest evangelical churches – City Harvest Church (CHC) – plunged into a shameful scandal. The church’s founder, together with 5 (five) other church leaders, were found guilty of misappropriating S$50 million of church funds and falsifying the church’s accounts to cover up their misdeeds.
Besides 55-year-old CHC founder and senior pastor Kong Hee, other partners-in-crime included deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 42; former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 55; former CHC finance managers Serina Wee, 38, and Sharon Tan, 40; and former CHC finance committee member John Lam Leng Hung, 47.
Facing charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts, they were accused of misappropriating S$24 million in church funds, funnelling them into bogus investments that funded the singing career of the pastor’s wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun (Sun Ho). Later, a further S$26 million was used to cover their tracks.
Subsequently, all the six church leaders were handed jail terms of between 21 months and eight years. Today, a three-judge panel reduced the jail sentences for all six CHC leaders to between 7 months and 3 years 6 months. That’s a staggering deep discount of between 67% and 56%. Here is the final verdict for the six scammers:
- Kong Hee – jail term: 3 years 6 months instead of 8 years
- Chew Eng Han – jail term: 3 years 4 months instead of 6 years
- Tan Ye Peng – jail term: 3 years 2 months instead of 5 years 6 months
- Serina Wee – jail term: 2 years 6 months instead of 5 years
- John Lam – jail term: 1 year 6 months instead of 3 years
- Sharon Tan – jail term: 7 months instead of 21 months
Not only the lucky thieves get a reduced jail terms, all six of them have the cheek to ask for deferment before they start their jail terms. Sharon Tan requested for a two-month deferment. The rest, including Kong Hee who said he wanted to spend Easter with his family, asked for a two-week deferment.
Delivering the verdict on behalf of the three-judge panel, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin explained that all the leaders were convicted of engaging in a conspiracy to commit criminal breach of trust by an agent, under Section 409 of the Penal Code. However, two judges found that the accused as directors did not fall within the scope of Section 409 of the Penal Code.
Justice Chan Seng Onn held a different view from Judge Chao and Justice Woo Bih Li. Judge Chao said – “While a director undoubtedly holds an important position in a company or organisation, it cannot be said that a person by becoming a director has offered his services as an agent to the community at large or that he makes his living as an agent.”
Therefore, Judge Chao said the court did not think that the six should be convicted for the criminal breach of trust by an agent under Section 409 of the Penal Code and reduced it to that of criminal breach of trust under Section 406, which carries a lower maximum sentence. Under the law, the maximum imprisonment under section 406 is less than half of the maximum under section 409.
The court also found significant mitigating factors, which included the lack of personal gain on the six former leaders’ part. Amazingly, the court accepted an argument that the leaders had acted in what they considered to be the best interests of CHC, despite the fact that money was siphoned to fund the singing career of CHC founder’s wife – Ms Ho Yeow Sun (Sun Ho).
What is more surprising was the statement by Judge Chao that the case should not be viewed as a “sinister and malicious” attempt on the leaders’ part to strip the church of funds for their own purposes. Which part of church funds being funnelled into bogus investments that the Singapore Judge Chao Hick Tin and Justice Woo Bih Li don’t understand?
True, five of the six CHC leaders – Tan Ye Peng, Chew Eng Han, Serina Wee, Sharon Tan, John Lam Leng Hung – could be said to have gained nothing from the scandal. But the fact that Tan Ye Peng, Chew and Wee deliberately falsified church’s accounts to cover up their misdeeds speaks volumes about their crimes beyond the best interests of CHC.
Even if the five could be forgiven in the name of God, clearly CHC founder and senior pastor Kong Hee can’t. The whole scandal started because Mr. Kong wanted to please his wife, hence the evil plan to channel CHC’s Building Fund through music firm Xtron, which manages Ms Sun Ho, for Crossover Project, a project started by the church in 2002 to evangelise through Ms Ho’s pop music.
Kong Hee’s wife music career was a personal endeavour which had nothing to do with the church to begin with. There was no expectation that the money funnelled to Sun Ho’s music career would be repaid, not to mention the bond investments were not an authorised use of the building fund. It was purely a scam to steal CHC money without any genuine intention of returning it.
Thanks to money, the six thieves could hire top lawyers and misled at least two of the three Singapore judges into believing that they had committed their sins only because it was done in the best interest of CHC, when in fact they were not. Not only had they scammed S$50 million of 30,000 members’ hard-earned money, now they have successfully conned the judges masquerading under God.
The fact that the church members had supported the project because they were not given the “full facts” goes to prove that all the six CHC leaders were leveraging on the reputation of City Harvest Church to betray the trust by cheating and stealing. The best part was when the CHC management board said this after the verdict – “We thank God for the shorter sentences.”
More importantly, the Singapore court, perhaps “intimidated by God”, is sending a wrong message that siphoning funds and falsifying accounts are okay as long as it involves a church. In essence, misappropriating church funds, when caught with pants down, will only entitle a thief to only maximum one month of jail terms for every S$1.2 million stolen.