Saturday, April 15, 2017

City Harvest appeal: Ruling may have serious implications on corruption cases, says Shanmugam

Court's decision to cut jail terms could have impact on other corruption cases

NEED TO TAKE TOUGH STANCE
From the Government's point of view, this legal reasoning has serious implications in other cases, including corruption cases, (and) our zero-tolerance approach for the future and we will have to consider as a matter of policy what other steps to take because we cannot relax our stand on that... We will have to make sure that the position is as strict as we have always maintained it. So I've asked AGC to advise whether we need to do anything.
LAW MINISTER K. SHANMUGAM, on the appeal verdict's serious implications. City Harvest Appeal

The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) is considering if it can take further steps in the City Harvest Church case, given that the decision to cut the jail terms of the six convicted could have serious implications for corruption cases, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

"We will have to consider as a matter of policy what other steps to take because we cannot relax our stand on that," he said, referring to Singapore's zero-tolerance towards corruption.

A day earlier, all six church leaders in the largest case of misuse of charitable funds in Singapore's history had their sentences slashed by a three-judge panel in the High Court, despite the prosecution's appeal for longer jail terms.

Their original jail terms, ranging from 21 months to eight years, were cut, in some cases by over half. The 52-year-old church founder Kong Hee, for instance, had his eight-year term cut to 31/2 years, while former fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56, had his six years reduced to three years and four months.

A critical reason for the High Court's decision was the ruling that directors are not agents under the more serious Section 409 of the Penal Code dealing with criminal breach of trust. The bench majority replaced the offence with basic criminal breach of trust, resulting in lighter sentences.

Referring to this legal point, Mr Shanmugam said it has serious implications for other cases, including corruption cases in which company directors are taking bribes.

But he sounded a note of caution, saying people can disagree with the court but they should be careful about "casting improper ulterior motives" on the judgments.

"The reasoning is there, they set it out, we agree, disagree, and from a Government point of view, if we disagree, then we always consider what we do. If necessary, we legislate through Parliament," he added.

In November 2015, the church leaders were found guilty of channelling $24 million in church funds into sham bonds in music production company Xtron and glass- maker Firna, then using another $26 million to cover up the misdeed.

The church had said the money was used to fund the singing career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, as part of what it described as a church mission to evangelise through her music.

All six appealed against their convictions and sentences, while the AGC appealed against the sentences for being too low. Mr Shanmugam said the Government agreed with the AGC's push for longer jail terms.

Referring to the four judges - three High Court judges and one State Court judge - who heard the case in total, Mr Shanmugam said two judges had thought "either the sentences should be as they are or higher". Justice Chan Seng Onn, in differing from Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justice Woo Bih Li, had said in his dissenting judgment that there were elements of benefit to Kong and his wife, and also permanent financial loss to the church.

The appeal judgment had commented on how the prosecution had not focused on whether any third parties had reaped gains from the church leaders' actions, even though this may have been suggested in the charges.

This point was not raised in the prosecution's written submissions for the appeal or at the trial.

As a result, the court had approached the sentencing in this case "as one without any element of wrongful gain or personal financial benefit, either direct or indirect", said the oral judgment.

Mr Shanmugam said he has "noted the court's comments on the way the matter was handled by the prosecution", and has asked Attorney-General Lucien Wong and his deputies to look into the matter.

Association of Criminal Lawyers of Singapore president Sunil Sudheesan told The Sunday Times the AGC could go to the Court of Appeal "to clarify section 409 once and for all". This must be done within a month of the High Court's decision.

Lawyer Lau Kah Hee said if the apex court takes a different view on the legal question, it could then decide on suitable sentences or send the case back for resentencing.

City Harvest verdict: AGC to take case to Court of Appeal

SINGAPORE - The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) said on Monday (April 10) that it will be taking the case involving the misappropriation of millions in City Harvest Church (CHC) funds to the Court of Appeal on questions of law.

Church founder Kong Hee, 52, and five other leaders had their sentences slashed last Friday after a three-judge High Court panel reduced their convictions for criminal breach of trust (CBT).

The six were originally convicted for CBT as agents, under Section 409 of the Penal Code. But in a two-one split decision, the High Court ruled that the six church leaders are not considered agents under the provision and replaced the offence with basic criminal breach of trust, under Section 406.


In a statement on Monday, the AGC said: "Having carefully considered the written grounds, the prosecution is of the view that there are questions of law of public interest that have arisen out of the High Court's decision, including and in particular, whether a director or a member of the governing body of a company or organisation who is entrusted with property, or with any dominion over property, is so entrusted in the way of his business as an agent for the purposes of section 409 of the Penal Code.

"The prosecution has accordingly filed a criminal reference today, to refer these questions of law to the Court of Appeal."


Under the Criminal Procedure Code, the Court of Appeal, in hearing and determining any questions referred to it, may make such orders as the High Court might have made as the Court of Appeal considers just for the disposal of the case.

The AGC statement said that if the Court of Appeal agrees with its submissions, the prosecution intends to ask the apex court to "reinstate the appellants' original convictions under section 409 of the Penal Code and make necessary and consequential orders in relation to the sentences given".

Kong, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, former fund manager Chew Eng Han, former finance manager Serina Wee, former finance committee member John Lam, and former finance manager Sharon Tan, were originally sentenced to between 21 months and eight years' jail.

They were found guilty, after a marathon trial that started in 2013, of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.

They had channelled $24 million from CHC's building fund into sham bonds in music production company Xtron and glass-maker Firna. This money was in fact used to fund the Crossover Project. Later, another $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

The prosecution appealed for higher sentences. The six appealed against their conviction and sentences.

On Friday, the jail terms were drastically reduced.

Kong's original sentence of eight years was cut to 3½ years.

Tan Ye Peng, 44, had his 5½ years in jail cut to three years and two months.

Former fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56, who originally got six years in jail, had it reduced to three years and four months. Former finance manager Serina Wee, 40, had her five-year jail term halved to 2½ years.

The three-year sentence of former finance committee member John Lam, 49, was also halved. Former finance manager Sharon Tan, 41, will be jailed for seven months instead of 21 months.



Sunday, April 9, 2017

City Harvest appeal: Leaders lied for sake of Church, not personal gain

SINGAPORE - They were not motivated by personal gain and they thought they were acting in the best interests of City Harvest Church (CHC).

Ultimately, the church leaders believed that their actions would advance the Crossover Project, a church mission to spread the gospel through pop music, which was found to be generally supported by the congregation.

These were the "exceptional" mitigating factors considered by a three-judge panel, in reducing the jail terms for the six convicted CHC leaders on Friday (April 7).

The six, who had appealed against their conviction and sentences, were given reduced jail terms raging from seven months to three years and six months.

In a 304-page written judgment, the judges noted that the case should not be seen as a "sinister and malicious attempt" by the six to use the church's funds for their own purposes, despite the huge sum of about $50 million involved.

Rather, they had "resorted to deceit and lies", such as hiding the truth of their transactions from auditors and lawyers, because they wanted to keep the use of the church's monies for the Crossover Project confidential. They had also feared that questions would be asked.

"Their fault lies in adopting the wrong means," the judges said.

The prosecution, in calling for stiffer sentences, had earlier stressed on the misappropriation of charity funds as among the key aggravating factors.

But the court, in the written judgment, clarified that while CHC is a charity organisation, it is not a charity that is also an Institution of Public Character (IPC).

This means that donations to the church are not tax-deductible.

Thus, unlike funds that are held by IPCs, such as the National Kidney Foundation, donations to church funds "are invariably made by its members for the benefit of the church" and do not serve the community as a whole.

In addition, while the six had been "reckless" with the funds, the court accepted that had no intention to cause permanent financial loss to the church.

"The appellants had, at all times, intended for the funds ... to be eventually returned to CHC with the stated interest even if they might not have been entirely sure as to how or when they could do so at the time when they entered into the transactions," the judges said.

In meting out the harshest sentence among the six to Kong, the judges agreed that he was the "ultimate leader" of the Crossover Project and gave the overall direction and moral assurance to the five others.

He was also one of the main players - if not the main one - who had directed and influenced the others to using the church's Building Fund to purchase sham bonds, even if he did not directly participate in redeeming them.

Touching on the issue of personal gain, the judges said: "While the Prosecution did, in its oral submissions before us, attempt to make the point that a benefit had accrued to Kong Hee's wife, Sun Ho, this point was not raised in its written submissions for the appeal." The issue of personal benefit was, therefore, not factored into the sentencing.

The judges also disagreed with the prosecution that former CHC finance committee manager John Lam, 49, was an "inside man" integral to the success of the conspiracy.

Instead, the judges found Lam's involvement to be "relatively limited" and "only at some junctures", thus sentencing him one year and six months, down from three years.

Former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56, had "employed his wits and financial expertise to mask the reality of the transactions", even though he was not a spiritual leader of the church.

As he had been the person trusted in all financial matters, the court handed him a jail term of three years and four months, down from six years.

CHC deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 49, was jailed three years and two months. This was a reduction from his orignal sentence of five years and six months.

While he was a spiritual leader in church, the judges accepted that he did not have the trust and authority that Kong had.

Finally, the judges found that former CHC finance managers Serina Wee, 40, and Sharon Tan, 41, were less culpable as they were not leaders in church.

Wee was an "administrator" helping out with accounts and documentation. She received two years and six months' jail, down from the five years that was previously given.

As for Tan, who took over the role from Wee, the judges agreed that she was "only an employee" and was merely carrying out instructions by the decision-makers in the church. She was given the lowest sentence of seven months, instead of 21 months previously.

Kong Hee asks church to fulfil building fund

City Harvest / Kong Hee Appeal - Five key highlights of the judgment

WHY WERE THE CBT CHARGES REDUCED?

The court found that City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee, 52, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44, and former finance committee member John Lam, 49, were not "agents" entrusted with dominion over CHC's funds.

While they held important positions in the church, it does not mean they were offering their "services as an agent to the community at large" or making their living as an agent. This is unlike a banker, a broker or a lawyer.

With this, the aggravated charge of CBT under Section 409 of the Penal Code, which involves CBT by a public servant, banker, merchant or agent, was reduced to a simpler charge under Section 406.

http://www.straitstimes.com/sites/default/files/attachments/2017/04/08/st_20170408_sewrap08_r2_3063398.pdf

WHY WERE SENTENCES CUT?

The lesser charge of CBT had a "significant impact" in the reduction of the sentences, as the maximum punishments of the two are "markedly different", the court said. The maximum jail terms under Section 406 are less than half that for those under Section 409.

Despite the huge sum of about $50 million involved, the court recognised that there had been no personal gain, among other mitigating factors, and "their fault lies in adopting the wrong means".

WHY WERE THE ACCOUNT FALSIFICATION CHARGES UPHELD?

These were related to entries recorded in the church's accounts in October and early November 2009 showing that the sham bonds purchased by the church's building funds were redeemed. The court held that the accused were aware the entries were false and they intended to defraud.

WHAT DID JUDGES SAY ABOUT KONG HEE?

Kong's role was that of "spiritual leader" of the five others, providing the "overall direction and moral assurance for their actions". Thus, his overall culpability was the greatest.

He was also one of the main players - if not the main one - who had influenced the others into using the church's funds to purchase sham bonds, even if he did not directly participate in redeeming them.

WHAT DID THE DIFFERING JUDGE SAY?

Justice Chan Seng Onn, in differing from Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justice Woo Bih Li, noted there were elements of benefit to Kong and his wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun. There was also permanent financial loss to the church.

Justice Chan called for a dismissal of the appeals for the six accused and prosecution.


Rise and fall of a superstar pastor



On Friday, Kong Hee sat stony- faced in the High Court, as a three- judge panel delivered its verdict.

Clad in his usual sharp black suit, the 52-year-old looked steelily ahead when he later exited the court, ignoring the barrage of questions from the media scrum.

It was a marked contrast to the charismatic eloquence that had helped propel his City Harvest Church (CHC) to its superstar status over the past three decades.

In 1989, the computer science graduate, then 25, started CHC in a single-storey terraced house at 41A Amber Road. It was called Ekklesia Ministry. His congregation comprised 20 teenagers.

The Raffles Institution old boy would cycle to see church-goers. Sometimes he would turn up for work dressed in a T-shirt and slippers, according to a church member interviewed for a 2002 article.

He married Ms Ho Yeow Sun in 1992, and the couple set up home in a Tampines flat although they would later live in a $9.3 million Sentosa Cove penthouse.

Registered as a society in 1992, CHC had few assets - it had no place of its own and services were held at rented conference rooms.

Mr Kirk Png's journey with CHC began at one such venue in 1993 - at the World Trade Centre. Then a Buddhist, Mr Png had been invited by friends. He said: "The congregation was about 800-strong. It was the friendship and presence of God that led me to stay when I faced parental objections."

The compliance consultant, 42, described the church's early years as "young and dynamic". "Many of us were young Christians. We learnt how to build up our character to be good Christians so we would make an impact when we stepped out."

In 1995, CHC moved to the Hollywood Theatre in Tanjong Katong. During its six years there, its congregation swelled from 1,300 to 10,000. Then came the millennium, with 2001 as a pivotal year. It erected a $47.6 million compound in Jurong West with a $583,000 fountain. At its peak, its coffers and congregation expanded - to $100 million and 33,000, respectively.

But controversy followed.

In 2002, Ms Ho recorded her first Mandopop album, Sun With Love, for what CHC called the Crossover Project - a mission to spread the Gospel through pop music. It was meant to launch her career in the US. That same year, Kong was asked whether it was appropriate for a pastor to be a pop star. He replied: "Why don't we wait and see... if Sun compromises on her integrity and values. I have a feeling she won't."

But some church-goers were concerned. In 2003, a member, Mr Roland Poon, alleged that the church's building fund had been misused to finance Ms Ho's music career. He later retracted the allegations and took out advertisements in five newspapers to apologise.

Later, Ms Ho outraged some when she was photographed in a revealing red Armani dress at the Hollywood Film Festival. Some also expressed discomfort over her music videos being played before services.

During the trial, the court learnt that more than US$8 million (S$11 million) had been spent on Sun With Love. This included US$1.6 million in production fees for American rapper Wyclef Jean.

But the album was never released although singles were produced. Of these, the 2007 music video China Wine - in which Ms Ho adopted a persona called Geisha - was the most controversial.

Now 44, Ms Ho was reported to have received over half a million in bonuses and advances, including a $30,000 birthday cash gift and an $80,000 "special performance bonus for hits in the US or the United Kingdom" in 2006.

In court last year, deputy public prosecutor Christopher Ong noted that Kong and the other five accused church leaders had not shown remorse - which ordinarily would be a mitigating factor.

During the case, CHC's attendance fell. In 2015, it drew a congregation of 16,482 - a 30 per cent drop from 2009, a year before investigations began. But Mr Png said of the dip: "What is important is not who has left but who has stayed. When things happen you don't just leave the family and move on."

On the status of the Crossover Project, a CHC spokesman told The Sunday Times: "As a church, we believe that the cultural mandate and marketplace evangelism are every believer's calling.

"As for the means in which we express these, we need to take time to pray and seek God for the future."

Over the past four years, it had also become more transparent about the management of its assets and funds, she added.

Kong Hee seeks church's forgiveness

There was a rousing cheer as City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee walked onstage yesterday at the packed Suntec convention centre auditorium.

But as he addressed the congregation that had gathered for the 5pm service, the crowd numbering in the thousands grew quiet.

"I'm so sorry for all the hurt, all the disappointment and all the painful ordeals you've been through," he said in a shaky voice.

"I really, really, really wish that I was and am a better, wiser leader. Pastor is deeply sorry and sincerely asks for your forgiveness. Please forgive me," he added.

He also thanked them for being members of the church at the first service held a day after the High Court reduced the sentences of all six church leaders, including Kong, in the biggest case of misuse of charity funds in Singapore history.

Executive pastor and president of the CHC management board Aries Zulkarnain later took to the stage to lead the church in prayer, together with Kong and his wife Ho Yeow Sun.

Nearing the end of the two-hour service, Kong returned onstage, saying he had learnt "many lessons through this entire ordeal".

In the midst of the church's quick growth, he admitted, he had not "slowed down, paused and prayed more" and made "unwise decisions" in the process.

In November 2015, Kong and five CHC leaders were handed jail terms ranging from 21 months to eight years. The prosecution and all six later launched appeals.

Following the High Court's decision, a spokesman for the Office of the Commissioner of Charities (COC) told The Sunday Times it will resume removal proceedings to protect the assets of the charity.

COC had previously said seven individuals involved will be banned from being a governing board member, key officer, trustee, agent or employee of CHC. Kong can continue with his religious duty as a pastor.

Many in the congregation declined to speak to The Sunday Times.

Yesterday, Kong promised the congregation that "whatever happened in the past will never repeat itself in the future".

"We must never let it happen again," he said. "It was a steep learning curve for all of us."

British court orders Malaysian tycoon Khoo Kay Peng to pay $112 million in divorce settlement



KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysian tycoon Khoo Kay Peng, who owns the Laura Ashley brand, has been ordered by a British court to pay £64 million (S$112 million) to his former wife as settlement for their divorce in a long-running row.

Judge David Bodey said in his ruling on Friday (April 7) that Chai should receive the divorce settlement in the form of both cash and property, the Guardian reported. The judge's detailed judgment on how the matrimonial assets would be split is expected to be released soon, said the report.

"I just want to thank my superb legal team ," Chai said in an e-mailed statement to Malay Mail Online after the court ruling.

Her lawyer Ayesha Vardag said in the same statement: "This litigation has been long and arduous. It is a journey which has now ended in the affirmation of the principle of fair sharing. It emphasises that there is no place in England for discrimination between home maker and bread winner."

Chai, who was crowned Miss Malaysia in 1969, had sought £100m from the 78-year-old tycoon following their split after 42 years of marriage. She claimed their assets were worth at least £205m. The 68-year-old said she had contributed to her ex-husband's success by being a "traditional" wife, and that they had made a sharing agreement entitling her to half of the family wealth.

"I looked at marriage in the traditional way," Chai had told Justice Bodey at hearings in the family division of the high court in London. "He is the breadwinner and I stayed at home and looked after the children. It was a daunting task."

Khoo, who owns 44 per cent of Laura Ashley Holdings, argued that his former wife should only receive £9m, the Guardian reported.

The two married in 1970 and had five children before splitting in 2012 and have spent more than £6m between them on lawyers to fight their financial dispute, according to the Guardian.

The tycoon had wanted the divorce proceedings heard in Kuala Lumpur where Chai would likely be awarded a less generous settlement. But Chai wanted a British court to decide on the divorce proceedings, claiming she had not been living in Malaysia since 1980 and is a resident of Britain.

In 2014, Chai gained the upper hand in the divorce battle after London's High Court ruled it could hear the case.

In January 2016, a London court granted a preliminary divorce decree to Chai, which entailed she would be entitled to half of Khoo's fortune once the marriage was officially dissolved.

City Harvest appeal verdict: Six church leaders get reduced jail terms, Kong Hee gets 3.5 years


SINGAPORE - A three-judge panel on Friday morning (April 7) reduced the jail sentences for all six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders who were convicted of criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts in a high-profile case involving the misuse of millions of dollars of church money.

Church founder Kong Hee. 52, who was  handed an eight-year jail term in November 2015, will spend 3½ years behind bars.

The other five - deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44; former CHC finance managers Serina Wee, 40, and Sharon Tan, 41; former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 49; and former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56 - also  had their jail terms reduced after the court, in a split decision, allowed their appeals against conviction and found them guilty of a less serious charge of criminal breach of trust.

The six were found guilty in 2015 after a marathon 142-day trial that started in 2013.





Sunday, April 2, 2017

Dark Secrets of the Rockefeller Family


Rockefeller's Death and The Impact on All of Humanity