CHC trial: 'No sense putting in so much work' says ex-fund manager

CHC trial: 'No sense putting in so much work' says ex-fund manager

They toiled over the accounting documents, spending hours and days doing and re-doing them.

On one occasion, Chew Eng Han even stayed until midnight at Serina Wee's home as the two of them pored over Xtron's cashflow projections.

All that effort would not have been necessary if City Harvest Church (CHC) had been investing in sham Xtron bonds, former CHC fund manager Chew said in court yesterday.

Chew, Wee, CHC founder Kong Hee and three others are accused of misusing millions of church money.

First, $24 million of church money was allegedly channelled through two "shell companies", Xtron and Firna, to finance the music career of singer-pastor Ho Yeow Sun. Then, $26.6 million was allegedly used to cover up the initial amount. (See report, above.)

Yesterday, former CHC finance manager Wee, 38, the last of the accused to testify, was cross-examined by Chew and the defence lawyers of the other accused.

Chew, 54, who is representing himself after discharging his lawyer in May last year, asked Wee if any of the accused had conspired for personal gain or to cause wrongful loss to the church.

Wee said no.

Chew also said he did not expect auditor Sim Guan Seng to pressure co-accused Sharon Tan, who succeeded Wee as finance manager, to clear the Xtron and Firna bonds off CHC's books.

That was the reason the accused scrambled to redeem the bonds, sparking off a series of transactions the prosecution labelled as a "round-tripping exercise", Chew said.

"It doesn't make sense to put in so much work to document the bonds, then suddenly take it off the books," Chew said. Wee agreed.

Chew also said it was "a series of unexpected events", and not the conspiracy that they were charged with, which led to the team constantly coming up with solutions.

Again, Wee agreed. Had there been a conspiracy, they would have "known better" not to invest in Xtron bonds as the same set of auditors were checking Xtron's books, Chew said.

He recounted an incident in 2008 when he was helping Xtron secure a $10 million loan from Standard Chartered Bank to show that Xtron had passed the bank's diligence.

TENSE

The discussions, however, became tense and Chew said he had even threatened to sue one of the bankers.

Wee said the negotiations took many months, but the bank was aware of Xtron's poor finances and how the bond proceeds from CHC were spent. Eventually, the loan was granted, despite the bank knowing that $7.2 million had been sunk into Ms Ho's English album and had yet to be recouped, Chew said.

Earlier in the day, Sharon Tan's lawyer, Mr Paul Seah, cross-examined Wee and asked her about CHC's practice of not reflecting every detail in the meeting minutes.

Wee said she had learnt it from former CHC staff member Wong Foong Ming and passed it on to Tan. The long-running trial was adjourned for the week and will enter its 125th day on Monday.

ABOUT THE CASE

City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and five others are on trial for allegedly misusing church funds through sham bonds.

First, $24 million was allegedly misused to fund the music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun, whose stage name is Sun Ho, and another $26.6 million to allegedly cover up the first amount. They are said to have done this through music production firm Xtron Productions and glass manufacturer Firna - both companies run by long-time supporters of the church.

Kong, former board member John Lam, finance manager Sharon Tan, ex-fund manager Chew Eng Han, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng and former finance manager Serina Wee face charges of criminal breach of trust and/or falsifying accounts.

Prosecutors had sought to show how Xtron and Firna directors simply did the accused's bidding.

The defence has argued that the transactions were legitimate, with the accused acting in good faith on the advice of lawyers and auditors.


This article was first published on April 30, 2015.
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