SINGAPORE — City Harvest Church’s (CHC) former fund manager Chew Eng Han will be the only one who is not attending the Criminal Reference hearing before the apex court as a prison inmate, after a High Court on Wednesday (April 19) granted his application to defer his jail sentence.
The other five church leaders convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds — including ex-finance manager Sharon Tan who on Wednesday applied successfully to cut short her initial two-month jail deferment — will surrender to the authorities on Friday.
Chew, who was sentenced to three years and four months’ jail, was granted an additional deferment until the Court of Appeal has ruled on the Criminal Reference case, brought by the prosecution, to clarify the law under which the CHC six leaders were convicted.
A Criminal Reference hearing is limited to criminal cases in which a question of law of public interest arises in a High Court decision on an appeal.
Chew, 56, told the High Court on Wednesday that he needed “time and resources” to prepare for the filing of a Criminal Reference. He was supposed to start his sentence on Friday following a two-week deferment.
Chew, who is representing himself, said he had “thought about (the verdict)”, and will “raise certain criminal references to the Court of Appeal”.
Chew has until May 5 to apply for leave to refer a question of law to the Court of Appeal. If this leave is granted, he can then file a Criminal Reference.
The High Court judges — Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, Justice Woo Bih Li, and Justice Chan Seng Onn — granted Chew a stay of his sentence, pending the outcome of the prosecution’s Criminal Reference hearing, or the outcome of his own proceedings.
However, the judges turned down Chew’s request to travel to Perth, Australia, to visit his wife and daughter.
As for ex-finance manager Tan, the prosecution led by Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong, had argued that she should start her seven-month jail sentence after the apex court had made its decision on the Criminal Reference.
Given that the case could take seven months, Mr Ong said she might finish her sentence ahead of the final decision, the prosecution said.
However, the High Court granted Tan’s application to begin her jail term on Friday.
Her lawyer, Mr Paul Seah, said his client would complete a letter of undertaking by the end of the week, where she would agree, among other things, to remain in Singapore until the apex court’s decision, and to serve a second stint in prison if the court reinstated her original 21-month jail sentence. Tan had earlier been given the two-month deferment after she cited her family’s plans to relocate to the United States.
Apart from Tan, four other former CHC leaders— Kong Hee, Tan Ye Peng, Serina Wee, and John Lam — will start their respective jail terms on Friday.
CHC founder and senior pastor Kong, 52, will serve three years and six months in jail, while former deputy senior pastor Tan, 44, will serve three years and two months.
Wee, 40, CHC’s ex-finance manager, will serve two years and six months, while former finance committee member Lam, will serve one year and six months in jail.
Meanwhile, Kong on Wednesday issued an apology to his church and the public for “unwise decisions” he had made in the past, and said that he was now “at peace” with his prison time.
In a statement issued to the media, Kong said he was “filled with grief and regret” over his mistakes and asked those he had hurt for forgiveness.
“To all I have disappointed, stumbled and hurt in my church, in the Body of Christ at large, and in the public, I am truly sorry,” he said.
“I have, in these past weeks since the release of the judgment, reflected deeply. I have come to terms with what is ahead and am at peace.”
The six former CHC leaders were convicted in 2015 of misappropriating S$50 million of church funds and were sentenced to jail terms of between 21 months and eight years. However, on April 7 this year, the High Court reduced their jail sentences significantly.