Finance manager 'part of plan to purge bonds'

FAR from being the innocent follower she painted herself to be, the prosecution yesterday charged that City Harvest Church (CHC) finance manager Sharon Tan was well aware of plans to "round-trip" church funds to throw auditors off the scent.

The prosecution added that the 39-year-old had been "actively involved" in the plan to purge the bonds held by the church in two firms, to avoid scrutiny.

The plan, comprising a series of transactions involving various entities, was mooted by former fund manager Chew Eng Han.

Citing correspondence that took place via e-mail, BlackBerry messaging and face-to-face meetings between Tan, Chew, former finance manager Serina Wee and deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, Deputy Public Prosecutor Mavis Chionh pointed out that Tan had taken part in asking questions about the plan and eventually agreed to it, even if the idea had come from Chew.

She said: "It's not (Chew) riding solo and doing everything himself; it's the four of you, right?" Taking the stand for the ninth day yesterday, Tan disagreed. She said: "Eng Han came up with the plan. Serina and myself assisted with the follow-up for the transactions that were needed."

Tan is one of six people, including founding pastor Kong Hee, accused of misusing $50 million of church funds to boost the music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, and covering up the misuse.

The prosecution believes that all of the accused, except Tan, channelled money from the church's building fund into sham bond investments in Xtron, which is Ms Ho's management company, and glass manufacturer Firna.

Four of them, including Tan, then allegedly devised transactions to clear the sham bonds from CHC's accounts to throw auditors off the scent.

Yesterday's hearing centred on measures taken to "redeem" the bonds.

For instance, Ms Chionh charged that more than $15 million transferred from the church to Xtron as "advance rental payment" was in fact a transfer made for the sole purpose of channelling funds back to the church through a series of transactions involving Firna and two other entities.

The advance payment was purportedly rental for premises that Xtron would buy on behalf of the church, but was really a "cover" to help provide the means for Xtron to pay back its "debt" to the church held in the bonds. In this way, the bonds could be cleared from CHC's books, Ms Chionh said.

Transactions were made to look like an investment was being redeemed when the exercise would actually be nothing more than the church's own money being round-tripped back to it, she added.

"I put it to you that this series of transactions which we have just looked at were the result of the planning that Eng Han, Serina, Ye Peng and you had engaged in, and that, therefore, these transactions were orchestrated by the four of you."

Tan, who has tried to downplay her role in the alleged wrongdoing, disagreed.

This article was first published on September 26, 2014.
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