City Harvest trial: E-mail flagged concern about defence

City Harvest trial: E-mail flagged concern about defence
Kong Hee arriving at the State Courts for the City Harvest trial.

SINGAPORE - Five of the six defendants in the City Harvest Church trial met in February last year, after which some of them were concerned that they were not on the same page about their defence.

This came to light in court yesterday after one of them, former church investment manager Chew Eng Han, submitted as evidence a series of e-mail messages in which they had discussed the meeting.

Questioned about the e-mail, former board member John Lam Leng Hung said the five at the meeting were himself, Chew, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, finance manager Sharon Tan and former finance manager Serina Wee.

The only defendant not at the meeting was church founder Kong Hee. The six of them face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing some $50 million in church funds to boost Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun's pop music career, and to cover this up.

Chew had written in the e-mail: "After tonight's discussion, I'm convinced we are substantially not on the same page in terms of the substance of our defence, and I'm very disturbed."

He added: "From the way the conversation went, I'm quite convinced that some are half-convinced that there has indeed been unauthorised usage of the (church's building fund). If we don't have 100 per cent conviction, we will falter in court and the defence will look weak and doubtful."

When questioning Lam yesterday, Chief Prosecutor Mavis Chionh put it to him that if he was an honest person who intended to tell the truth in court, he would not be trying to meet the others or worrying that their views on the charges were different. Lam disagreed.

Mr N. Sreenivasan, lawyer for Tan Ye Peng, also objected, pointing out that "even an honest person in a joint trial will be concerned about all the evidence, including the evidence of the co-accused".

"The suggestion that consulting your co-accused is dishonest will mean that even I cannot sit down and talk about this case," he added.

The revelation of the meeting capped a day in which Ms Chionh charged that Lam was using his fellow defendant Chew as a "scapegoat".

One instance was a "secret letter" that Lam had signed on behalf of the church board, even though the board was not told of the letter and had not given him the authority to sign it.

The letter was between City Harvest and Indonesian glassware firm Firna, which is owned by long-time church member Wahju Hanafi.

The church had invested in bonds issued by Firna. The prosecution believes these were sham bonds made to enable the misuse of church funds, as Mr Hanafi had owned another firm that managed Ms Ho's music career.

The investment had a clause that allowed the church to convert the bonds into shares in Firna if bond monies were not repaid. But the letter stated that the church would sell the shares back to Mr Hanafi and his father-in-law at a nominal value of US$1 (S$1.25) if the bonds were converted into shares, effectively nullifying the church's protection.

Lam had said his understanding was that the letter was necessary to convince Mr Hanafi's father-in-law, who held 20 per cent of the firm at the time, to agree to the bonds. Lam said he had signed the letter because Chew had assured him Mr Hanafi had no intention of enforcing the secret letter's terms.

Asked why he had signed the letter without telling the church board, Lam said he had left it to Chew to get the board's approval.

To this, Ms Chionh said: "Well, that's very convenient because Mr Chew Eng Han seems to pop up very frequently in your explanations for why you did or didn't do certain things."

This article was first published on August 08, 2014.
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