CHC Trial: Wee set up bookkeeping firm as a smokescreen

CHC Trial: Wee set up bookkeeping firm as a smokescreen
Serina Wee, former finance manager of City Harvest Church (CHC), outside the Court, for the CHC leaders trial on 5 May 2015. She and five other church leaders are on trial for allegedly misusing church funds through sham bonds.

Former City Harvest Church (CHC) finance manager Serina Wee left the church in 2007 to set up her own bookkeeping firm, Advante Consulting.

The firm went on to handle the accounts of various companies under the CHC group, including Xtron, which managed the music career of Ms Ho Yeow Sun, the wife of church founder Kong Hee.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong yesterday argued in court that the move was a smokescreen, so auditors would not raise questions about whether the church had control over Xtron.

"I put it to you that the real reason Advante was started, and then took on the role of Xtron's accountant, was a step to create this separation that was felt to be necessary between CHC, Xtron and UEPL," he said. UEPL was another church-linked firm then involved in a church property bid.

Mr Ong said this separation was "just an appearance" as Wee continued to be involved in decisions involving CHC and Xtron finances.

At one point, Wee was the accountant of both the church and Xtron - and church leaders believed this would be perceived as a conflict of interest. Wee, on her eighth day on the stand, disagreed with both the prosecution's charges.

The 38-year-old is part of a group of six church leaders accused of misusing church money to bankroll Ms Ho's secular music career. They are charged with channelling $50 million from the church building fund into sham bond investments and covering up the misuse.

The investments were the subject of a spirited exchange between lawyers on both sides yesterday after Mr Ong asked Wee if their "only purpose" was getting financial returns.

Wee's lawyer, Senior Counsel Andre Maniam, and Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan, who is acting for co-accused Tan Ye Peng, asked the prosecution if it was now arguing that the investments were "supposed to be for financial returns only", and not dual-purpose investments to fund Ms Ho's career, or a sham.

Mr Ong said the prosecution's case was that the bonds were a sham.

"They are not dual purpose. They are not purely for financial return. They are not for investment at all," said Mr Ong, who then asked Mr Sreenivasan what the defence's case was.

Mr Sreenivasan said: "Your Honour, I really have a problem when they don't tell me what is their case, they want me to answer what's the defence... They have the burden of proof all inverted."

The trial enters its 128th day today.

dansonc@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on May 7, 2015.
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