SINGAPORE: Founder of City Harvest Church (CHC) Kong Hee was released from prison on Thursday (Aug 22) after serving a jail sentence of three-and-a-half years.
Kong Hee, who is 55 this year, received the longest jail term among the six church leaders that had been involved in the marathon CHC case, in which S$50 million of church funds had been misused.
But the pastor walked free from Changi Prison just two years and four months after he surrendered himself to the State Courts in April 2017. Inmates typically serve two-thirds of their sentences before being released on remission.
What started in May 2010 – when an investigation was launched into the megachurch’s accounts – dragged on until February 2018, when the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision to convict the church leaders of less serious criminal breach of trust charges.
But another twist to the case emerged when one of them, former fund manager Chew Eng Han, made headlines again last year.
Chew was arrested for trying to flee Singapore on a boat, just as most others were serving their jail sentences. Former finance manager Sharon Tan had already completed hers.
A timeline of events:
May 2010: The Commissioner of Charities and Commercial Affairs Department launches investigations into CHC accounts.
June 2012: The Commissioner of Charities releases a press statement that there was misconduct and mismanagement in the CHC administration. Five church leaders, including Chew, are arrested and charged in court for their offences.
July 2012: Former finance manager Serina Wee is charged in court.
May 2013: The trial begins. It will go on for more than 142 days over two years.
October 2015: All six CHC leaders are found guilty of misappropriating about S$50 million of church funds. They are convicted of the most aggravated form of criminal breach of trust under section 409 of the Penal Code and sentenced to jail terms of between eight years and 21 months. Chew is given a sentence of six years.
November 2015: All six CHC leaders are sentenced to jail. However, later in the month, the prosecution appeals against the sentences, saying they are “manifestly inadequate”.
December 2015: All six church leaders decide to appeal against their convictions.
July 2016: Chew files a police report against eight CHC members for “fraudulent misrepresentation of vital facts about the church which induced me and other members to give our donations” and for use of funds for purposes other than what was represented to the members of the church.
September 2016: The appeals of the six CHC leaders are heard by a three-judge panel over five days. During his appeal, Chew says the sentencing judge had “gravely erred” in his ruling, and used a flawed definition of misappropriation. He added he had been “brainwashed” into supporting the Crossover Project as Kong Hee regularly played up Sun Ho’s music success.
April 2017: In a two-to-one split decision, the High Court convicts the six CHC leaders of reduced criminal breach of trust charges under section 406 of the Penal Code, slashing their jail terms significantly.
The prosecution applies for a criminal reference, seeking clarification on how the law has been applied in the case, looking for a definitive ruling from the Court of Appeal and to reinstate the original convictions.
Chew appeals to the High Court to defer his sentence until after the Court of Appeal decides on the prosecution’s application for a criminal reference, and says he plans to take his case to the Court of Appeal.
The High Court grants the deferment to allow Chew, who is representing himself, time to conduct research and access the resources to conduct his own defence.
Kong Hee apologises to his church and the public for “unwise decisions” he had made in the past in a Facebook post. Adds that he is at peace with serving his three-and-a-half-year jail term that begins on Friday.
July 2017: In his first attempt to challenge his conviction, Chew refers 58 questions to the Court of Appeal, including whether a person can be convicted of misappropriation if he used the money not for himself but for the owner. The appeal is rejected.
August 2017: The Court of Appeal reserves judgement on the prosecutor’s bid to seek clarification on the High Court’s April ruling and says it will deliver its judgement “in due course”.
Chew files a criminal motion seeking permission to refer a question of law of public interest to the Court of Appeal, in his second bid to fight his conviction.
September 2017: Court of Appeal judges throw out Chew’s application after an hour-long hearing, calling it an “abuse of process” and saying that the High Court’s judgement to uphold Chew’s conviction is “final and authoritative on these issues”.
February 2018: The Court of Appeal upholds the High Court’s decision in April 2017 to convict the six City Harvest leaders of less serious criminal breach of trust charges. Chew is allowed his request to start serving his sentence on Feb 22, after the Chinese New Year holiday.
The motorised sampan in which Chew Eng Han tried to flee Singapore. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)
Twenty days later, Chew is caught while attempting to flee Singapore. His boat was intercepted by Police Coast Guard vessels off Pulau Ubin at about 8.45am, after authorities received a tip-off.
It is believed Chew and the man piloting the sampan said they were going fishing. However, preliminary investigations suggest that the boat was heading to Malaysia.
December 2018: Chew Eng Han is found guilty on Dec 12 of trying to escape Singapore and defeat justice. District Judge Victor Yeo finds Chew guilty, saying he is not persuaded by the defence’s arguments that the accused was apprehended too early, and that his actions up to the point of his arrest did not amount to embarking on a crime proper.
City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee leaves prison, on Aug 22, 2019. (Photo: Hanidah Amin)
January 2019: Chew is given an additional jail term of 13 months on Jan 29 for trying to flee Singapore and attempting to defeat justice. He will serve the additional months after the end of his first sentence.
Aug 22, 2019: The founder of City Harvest Church, Kong Hee, is released from jail after doing time for his role in misusing millions of church funds, a day ahead of his 55th birthday.