City Harvest trial: Defence loses bid to have case dropped

City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and five others will take the stand to defend themselves against allegations that they varyingly misused church funds and falsified its accounts.

The trial against them will continue on July 14, with the defence taking its turn, after Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon yesterday rejected their lawyers' attempt to have the case thrown out.

After the prosecution wrapped up its case in February, the lawyers claimed it had not done enough to even merit a defence.

They said the prosecution had failed to show sufficient evidence for each of the charges against their clients.

Rejecting this, Presiding Judge See said: "The evidence as it stands is sufficient to support each and every element of the various charges preferred against the six accused persons.

"In the result, I find that the six accused have a case to answer on their charges, and I call for their defence accordingly."

Mr See reached this conclusion after spending about half an hour explaining his findings on various matters disputed between the lawyers and the prosecution.

He disagreed with the defence lawyers in many instances.

Kong and the others are alleged to have misused about $50 million of church funds to bankroll the pop music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun and to cover this up.

Their lawyers had said Ms Ho's music was part of a church "Crossover Project" to evangelise.

The defence had argued that "church funds were used for church purposes", so the accused could not have been dishonest.

"However, I do not find this argument persuasive," said Presiding Judge See.

"Even if this is indeed a case of 'church funds for church purposes', dishonesty could be established if the evidence shows the accused persons knew they were not legally entitled to use (the church's) money in the way they did."

Prosecutors had said that the misused funds came from the church's Building Fund, which was intended for specific purposes, one of which was investment.

The defence had argued that this was what the accused did: invest money from the Building Fund. The prosecution's response was that the investments were in fact shams concocted to enable access to the Fund.

"In my view, there is evidence to show these were 'sham' investments, in the sense of being 'false' or 'contrived'," said the judge. "I should add that even if one does not use the word 'sham', the evidence suggests the so-called investments were not genuine investments but were merely disguises for something else."

 This article was published on May 6 in The Straits Times.

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