SINGAPORE - One of the six City Harvest leaders accused of misusing millions in church funds will be defending himself for the remainder of the high-profile trial that had begun a year ago.
Yesterday, the church's former investment manager, Chew Eng Han, discharged his lawyer, Senior Counsel Michael Khoo, who made a formal application to discharge himself in a district court. This was accepted by Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon, who had on May 5 ruled that the six had a case to answer.
Chew issued a statement online after the hearing held in the judge's chambers yesterday and said his decision came after "much thought and deliberation". The church treasurer who left City Harvest in June 2013 wrote of a "deep personal conviction" of the need to deliver his defence in person.
"It isn't easy for most to understand this move, but I believe it is the right thing to do. The prosecution has delivered its case, and the honourable judge has decided there is a case to answer... Now is the time for me to answer and I feel that I need to answer for and by myself."
Mr Khoo was named as his lawyer on March 8 last year. Three days earlier, Chew had applied to engage a Queen's Counsel - an elite British lawyer - but this was rejected by Justice V. K. Rajah.
Speaking to reporters after the hearing, Mr Khoo, whom Chew called a "great help" and "supportive friend", said he had been informed last week.
In a trial that began last May 15, church founder Kong Hee, Chew and four others face varying charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts.
They are accused of misappropriating $24 million worth of church funds to bankroll the pop music career of Kong's singer wife Ho Yeow Sun.
They also allegedly covered this up by "round-tripping" $26.6 million.
After the prosecution closed its case on Feb 10, defence lawyers urged the court to throw out the charges, saying Ms Ho's music was part of a church "Crossover Project" to evangelise. They said the funds had been used for church purposes, so their clients could not have acted dishonestly.
Presiding Judge See, however, ruled that evidence given by the prosecution witnesses had been sufficient for the trial to continue. Criminal breach of trust is punishable with a life sentence, or up to 20 years' jail and a fine. Falsification of accounts carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in jail and a fine. The hearing resumes on July 14.
This article was first published on May 29, 2014.
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