Not a good Harvest for the State

Nov 21, 2015 05.48AM |

by Bertha Henson

LOOKS like the State went for broke in the City Harvest case. But the judge didn’t quite agree. Shorn off all the precedents and details cited by the prosecution, and whether sentences should run consecutively or currently, here’s what the State asked for in terms of total jail terms – and the sentence delivered at the end of what was possibly Singapore’s longest-running suit over the biggest sum of charity money mis-used.

Kong Hee:
State: 11 to 12 years
Judge: 8 years.

Chew Eng Han:
State: 11 to 12 years
Judge: 6 years

Tan Ye Peng:
State: 11 to 12 years
Judge: 6 years

Serina Wee
State: 11 to 12 years
Judge: 5years, 6 months

Sharon Tan:
State: 5 to 6 years
Judge: 21 months

John Lam
State: 8 to 9 years
Judge: 3 years

In delivering his oral judgment earlier today, Justice See Kee Oon: “In my mind, it is important, as a matter of sentencing policy, to deter generally people who are entrusted with charity monies from misusing those monies. I am, however, also mindful that deterrence does not simply entail the imposition of disproportionately crushing sentences.”

The six were found guilty last month of misusing some $50 million in church funds. Of that, $24 million was used to bankroll the music career of Kong’s wife, singer-pastor Ho Yeow Sun.

Given the conviction, it remained for the prosecution and the defence to argue on what sort of sentence each individual should receive. The sentences would differ in terms of what sort of leadership position each held and how big a role they played in the sham bond scam and round-tripping. While Kong Hee was numero uno, for example, Sharon Tan was its finance manager.

Key among the defence’ planks was that the individuals never put the money to personal use, and that the money had been returned to the church. The prosecution stuck to its guns on how the church leaders had abused the trust of the public, and that the restitution was to cover up the trail rather than motivated by remorse. It wants a heavy sentence to deter abuse at charitable organisations.

Here is what the judge agreed that while huge sums of money and serious breaches of trust were involved, there were “unique features”.

– They did not enjoy personal gain nor had they contemplated it.
– They believed that they were working towards an objective that had the support of the church.
– The church did not lose any money since they made restitution. “Even though I do not accept that this truly reflects remorse on the part of the accused, I do not think that it negates entirely the mitigating value of the fact that CHC has not suffered permanent loss.”
– Their contributions to the church and wider community.

“General deterrence must therefore underpin the court’s sentencing approach. Wider issues of personal integrity, transparency and accountability in relation to the custody and use of charity monies, particularly where massive sums of money are involved, must also be adequately considered,” said the judge.

“On the other hand, there are mitigating features which set this case apart from the prosecution’s sentencing precedents, chiefly, the lack of personal wrongful gain, any motive of self-interest or enrichment and the absence of an intent to cause permanent loss and the return of the monies ultimately to CHC.”

Is the chapter closed yet? We don’t know since either side can still appeal against the sentence.


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