From legal battles to failed escape bid: The twists and turns of Chew Eng Han’s City Harvest case

From legal battles to failed escape bid: The twists and turns of Chew Eng Han’s City Harvest case

Channel NewsAsia·2018-02-23 02:05

SINGAPORE: It was a marathon case involving the misuse of S$50 million in funds from City Harvest Church (CHC).

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 six church leaders of less serious criminal breach of trust charges.

But just when it looked like the case has come to a conclusion, one of them, former fund manager Chew Eng Han, made headlines again on Wednesday (Feb 21) when he was arrested for trying to flee Singapore on a boat. 

He had been due to start his jail sentence on Thursday. The 57-year-old had asked to defer his sentence for one last time to spend Chinese New Year with his family.

Four other CHC leaders, including church founder Kong Hee, are serving their jail sentences, while former finance manager Sharon Tan has completed hers.

Chew's arrest at sea is the latest twist in the long-running saga. Here's 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 subsequently 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 had 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.

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. 

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.

The motorised sampan in which Chew Eng Han tried to flee Singapore. (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

Chew and the man who was piloting the sampan said they were going fishing, Channel NewsAsia understands. However, preliminary investigations suggest that the boat was heading to Malaysia.


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