Auditor had 'intimate knowledge of deals

SINGAPORE - For 20 years, auditor Foong Daw Ching was someone the leaders of City Harvest Church looked up to.

Yet, he "broke their hearts" by denying in court this week that he gave guidance the church relied on. This included the church's financial deals, which are at the centre of the trial.

This assertion by Mr N. Sreenivasan - lawyer for deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng - characterised Tuesday's proceedings.

The defence sought to show that Mr Foong, a partner at accounting firm Baker Tilly TFW, was only trying to save his own skin by disavowing intimate knowledge of the deals. Church members had gone to Mr Foong for advice since he led the City Harvest audit in 1993 when it was a young church, and he had not raised any red flags, the defence claimed.

"They looked up to you as a person with an extremely impressive (resume), as a well-regarded accountant and a church elder," said Mr Sreenivasan. City Harvest founder Kong Hee even solemnised the wedding of Mr Foong's daughter, the court heard.

"My client is in the dock and his life is in a mess. His instruction to me is that if you had told him what was right and what was wrong, he would have followed your advice... You are breaking his heart, the way you are denying things."

Mr Foong, however, hit back: "They know very well they come to me on an ad hoc basis... They are intelligent people. You paint (them) as though they are 21-year-olds."

The 63-year-old added that he had not led the church's audit since 1993 and insisted that he had given only informal, "general" advice to the church members since then. "Whatever (facts) they have given me, I have given them advice and that part of advice they can rely upon. If I probe, it may encroach on the auditing area and there's an audit team which needs to take over."

The defence has been trying to show that Mr Foong knew more about the allegedly suspect financial transactions than he let on.

Several of the accused had said in e-mail messages that he "endorsed" or gave suggestions about the deals and disclosure requirements.

He was also sent documents such as a bond agreement contract which the State believes was a sham investment by the accused.

The documents included a summary of the church's relationship with various firms that allegedly helped the six church members to misuse church funds.

Confronted with these e-mail messages, Mr Foong mostly insisted that he did not recall reading them. He said on Tuesday: "I am a very busy man... and I travel quite frequently."

But Kong's lawyer, Mr Edwin Tong, said to him: "I find it incredible that one of your biggest church clients is consistently sending you information, making sure you are aware of the facts, asking you question after question... and each time your answer (in court) is 'I just don't even remember reading the e-mail'."

Before the court adjourned for the day, Mr Foong was asked to produce his appointment diaries or logs from 2007 to 2010. He is expected to do so when he takes the stand again on Wednesday.

Senior Counsel N. Sreenivasan represents one of the six accused, deputy pastor Tan Ye Peng. He was cross-examining auditor Foong Daw Ching who was the church's auditor between 1993 and 1994.

- MR SREENIVASAN: "You were the church's auditor in 1993. Tan Ye Peng was 21 years old in 1993, Kong Hee was in his late 20s, some of the other people in the dock may still have been in school. City Harvest Church was a very young church at that time and the first auditor or elder or senior figure in the Christian community who gave them accounting advice, acted for them, was you. They looked up to you from 1993 onwards as an auditor who was a Christian."

- MR FOONG: "They know very well they come to me on an ad hoc basis, no paper produced, nothing like that. They are intelligent people. You paint (them) as though they are 21-year-olds. They have a whole team of their own advisers and it's not as though I'm the adviser. They are all qualified people and very brilliant people."

- MR SREENIVASAN: "When it's your own skin on the line, you will be careful and make sure you don't get into trouble. But when other people ask you for advice, you don't probe, you give them general advice and they are expected to know on their own that they can't rely on your advice."

- MR FOONG: "I don't think that's fair. Whatever (facts) they have given me, I have given them advice and that part of the advice they can rely upon. If I probe, it may encroach on the auditing area and there's an audit team which needs to take over. The way you asked (makes it sound like) I'm just chin chai (Hokkien for doing things without much thought), don't care."

zengkun@sph.com.sg


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