CHC Appeal: Sounding a similar refrain, church leaders downplay own roles in final attempt to escape jail
by Wan Ting Koh
BY THE second day of the hearing, it was all sounding a bit familiar.
It seems the strategy going into the City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders’ appeal was this: Pass the buck. Blame someone else.
Yesterday (Sept 15), John Lam, 48, who was the church’s finance committee member, said he was just a “pawn” and didn’t really know what was going on. Kong Hee, 52, the church’s founder and presumed mastermind of the multimillion-dollar scam, said he had consulted professionals all the way (read: If these experts didn’t think anything was wrong, how could he have known?).
Today, two more of the six CHC leaders put their cases forward, with similar-sounding arguments. The remaining two will be heard next week. All six were convicted last year for criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts, and handed sentences ranging from 21 months to eight years in jail.
First up today was Chew Eng Han, 56, the church’s former investment committee member and former board member, who said he was under the influence of Kong and did his bidding because he trusted the senior pastor. He was not represented by a lawyer.
“Whatever Kong Hee tells us, we believed. I never thought it was a sham,” he told the court.
In fact when the judge asked him later: “So you were brainwashed?”
His answer: “Yes, I was.”
Chew also said that his actions were done out of goodwill, that he was a giver, not a taker, claiming he and his family have donated $1 million to the church over the years. (“I’m not a taker to the church. I’m a giver, and thieves don’t give to the owners of the property.”)
In this respect he sounded a similar refrain to Kong yesterday when the Rafflesian argued that his actions had come from good intentions, and that he did not personally gain from the financial crimes that involved $50 million in church funds said to finance his wife’s popstar career in the United States.
The same went for Sharon Tan, 40, the church’s former finance manager who presented her case in the afternoon.
She said that she was the only one of the six who wasn’t part of the church’s leadership. She also said she had been “left out of the loop” on many occasions when decisions on the sham bonds were being made.
Her lawyer showed a string of email and text correspondences to show that Tan was not part of the circle of key decision makers. She was merely a “mouthpiece” that was taking orders from the top, the lawyer said, adding: “The decisions were made. The plans were more or less set in place … Sharon was not involved in this thread.”
“Everything she did over the years… was done with the purest of motives in what she thought to be in CHC’s best interests.”
So far, all four church leaders who have put up their defences have repeated what was said at trial: That they were only trying to do right by the church. That they didn’t know what they were doing was wrong. And they certainly had nothing to gain by it.
Earlier in the day, Chew also reiterated part of Kong’s defence yesterday, saying that the trial judge had erred in his judgement by conflating misappropriation (the wrongful use of funds) with dishonesty. This was a point that Tan’s lawyer had argued in the afternoon as well.
Said Chew: “[The judge has] gravely erred in ruling that there was dishonest misappropriation… He has based his ruling on a flawed definition of the word ‘misappropriate’, which hinged on an equally erroneous reliance and interpretation of the words ‘wrong use’.”
All six church leaders are expected to present their cases for appeal. After the four who spoke this week, the remaining two – Serina Wee and Tan Ye Peng – will present their appeal on Monday. Wee, 39, is a former church finance manager and Tan Ye Peng, 43, a deputy senior pastor.
The prosecution will then present its appeal on Tuesday to try and extend all of their jail sentences.
Additional reporting by Khairunisya Hanafi.
Featured image by Najeer Yusof.
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