Even if if City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee had used church funds for the wrong reasons, he did so in good faith and there was never any dishonesty behind it. Moreover, he did not obtain a single cent for his own gain.
That was the case put forth yesterday by Kong's lawyer Senior Counsel Edwin Tong, in arguing for an overturn of the pastor's three convictions for "dishonestly misappropriating" church money.
He also appealed Kong's eight-year jail sentence.
Kong, 52, and five other CHC leaders at the centre of a long-running financial scandal involving $50 million in church funds, are back in court for the final stage of the legal process. The prosecution is appealing for longer deterrent sentences.
In October last year, the six were convicted of misappropriating millions in church funds to fuel the pop music career of Kong's wife, Ho Yeow Sun, in a church mission known as the Crossover Project.
The court found they had invested $24 million from CHC's building fund in bogus bonds from production company Xtron and glass-maker Firna - money that was in fact used to fund the Crossover Project. Another $26 million was spent to cover up the initial misdeed.
Yesterday, Kong and former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 48, presented their cases before a three-judge panel.
The panel comprises Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin, and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn.
Mr Tong said the lower court had wrongly conflated the "wrong use" of CHC's building fund with having a dishonest intention. "The intention to put the funds to wrongful use is not the same as the intention to cause wrongful loss," he noted.
Mr Tong also reiterated Kong's defence that he had "almost religiously" consulted lawyers and auditors about the bond transactions.
The six accused had arrived in good spirits yesterday. All of them - except former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, who is representing himself and was seated with the other defence lawyers - were smiling and laughing in the dock before proceedings began.
Lam's lawyer Senior Counsel Kenneth Tan reiterated his client's defence that he had only limited involvement and knowledge in the bond transactions, agreeing at one point with Justice Woo who had asked if Lam was an "innocent pawn" being used by the others. Lam faces three years in jail.
The appeal continues today with Chew and former finance manager Sharon Tan presenting their cases.
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