The long-running criminal battle over the misuse of City Harvest Church (CHC) funds yesterday resulted in all six accused being convicted of multi-million dollar fraud.
Some of them - including the church's charismatic 51-year-old founder, Kong Hee - were found guilty of secretly funnelling $24 million into sham investments to bankroll the controversial pop music career of his wife, Ho Yeow Sun. And some were guilty of devising plans to use a further $26 million to cover these tracks.
In a courtroom packed with about 70 church supporters and family members of the accused, Judge See Kee Oon ruled that the six had "knowingly acted with dishonest intent" and were involved in conspiracies to misuse church building funds for the Crossover Project - a CHC mission to evangelise through Ms Ho's music. There was also an attempt to defraud auditors by falsifying accounts.
"Each of them participated and functioned in their own way as crucial cogs in the machinery," said Judge See, who singled out Kong as the spiritual leader the other defendants had trusted.
They include former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 55; former CHC finance manager Serina Wee, 38; CHC finance manager Sharon Tan, 40; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 42; and former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 47.
Bail of $1 million was extended to Kong, Tan Ye Peng, Chew and Lam. Bail amount was set at $750,000 for Sharon Tan and Wee. Wee was previously out on bail for $500,000. All six are barred from travelling overseas.
The mammoth trial has captured public attention as tales of extravagant spending by pastor Kong and his wife emerged from the courtroom, along with details of an intricate financial fraud.
After a 140-day trial which began in May 2013, all six arrived in court to hear the verdict in good spirits with their families in tow. Minutes before the hearing began, they were chatting and joking with one another in the dock.
Chew told The Straits Times he was at peace and unafraid, while Tan Ye Peng flashed a thumbs up at the defence lawyers.
Many of the church's supporters had queued overnight for a coveted pass into the courtroom, and some 60 people that did not manage to score a ticket loitered outside, eyes glued to their phones for updates.
But moments after Judge See started delivering his verdict, the mood darkened. Smiles faded and the six stared glumly ahead.
Judge See addressed them in sequence, pronouncing the six guilty of all charges - which involved varying counts of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts.
Most of them hung their heads low in the dock. Sharon Tan and Wee were seen wiping away tears.
After the hearing, Senior Counsels Edwin Tong, Andre Maniam and N. Sreenivasan - lawyers for Kong, Wee and Tan Ye Peng respectively - said it was still "too early" to say whether their clients would appeal.
Lawyers on both sides are due back in court on Nov 20, where they will deliver oral submissions on sentencing.
A maximum cumulative sentence of 20 years can be imposed on the accused, in addition to a fine.
In a statement released by the church, Kong's wife Ho, who is also CHC's executive director, said: "We have placed our faith in God and trust that whatever the outcome, He will use it for our good."
Sharon Tan said she would speak to her lawyer today to decide whether she would file an appeal. "I will keep on praying," she added.
Wee's husband, Kenny Low, told reporters outside the court bail centre: "She's not in the right frame of mind to comment now. We are thankful for the support that we have received.
"As you've heard, the judge said it's not that they are morally wrong or used the money for personal gains. It's too early to say what our next course of action is."
Some of those found guilty stuck to their guns. "It's been a very long trial and someone prudent would have been prepared for conviction. But, of course, we were always believing in our acquittal," said Lam.
Chew added: "I still believe in justice, that the innocent will be set free. And I believe I am innocent."
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