Former friends clash in bid to discredit testimony

SINGAPORE - It was a showdown yesterday between two men who used to be friends and comrades-in-arms on the City Harvest Church board.

Chew Eng Han, who oversaw its investments, mounted a feisty examination of former board member John Lam, who took the stand for a third day. Both men are among six accused on trial.

Chew, 54, was asking the questions himself as he had discharged his lawyer in May, citing a "deep personal conviction" of the need to defend himself.

He had also abruptly quit the church in June last year over deep-seated differences.

Yesterday, he was dogged in trying to discredit Lam's testimony that Chew, the church's former fund manager under Amac Capital Partners, had "complete and unfettered discretion" to make investment plans. These included the alleged sham transactions that are central to the present trial.

Lam has maintained that he only had a piecemeal idea of what was going on.

The six persons, including church founder Kong Hee, are accused of funnelling about $50 million of the church's building fund monies into alleged bogus deals with events firm Xtron Productions and glass manufacturer Firna, to bankroll the secular pop music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun.

In the one hour that Chew had before the hearing adjourned, he got Lam to admit he was wrong in his earlier testimony that it was Chew's idea in 2003 to start Xtron to manage Ms Ho's career.

Chew cited two e-mails, previously tendered in court as evidence, that showed the idea might have come instead from deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng. He said: "I didn't approach you, I didn't have this grand vision of a media events company. I had a full-time job, State Street Bank, at the time."

He asked why Lam pointed the finger at him, despite having full access to the e-mails. Lam countered that he was citing his "state of mind at the contemporaneous time" in his previous answer, but later conceded that his evidence was inaccurate.

Chew also sought to justify the investments by arguing that the church had always had an appetite for risk since it began investing its surplus funds in 1998 or 1999. To prove that his financial acumen was sound, Chew recounted how he had at the time pumped $2.2 million of church funds into one single stock - Superbowl Holdings.

While Lam said there were "some concerns" from the board, Chew said he "wasn't afraid" even when the stock plunged. The church eventually made $550,000 when it sold its stock years later.

Asked separately if it was a "dishonest act" to buy junk bonds or unrated bonds, Lam conceded it was not. Chew then cited a recent Reuters article reporting a "newly aggressive approach" by Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC, investing in unrated Chinese bonds it would likely hold to maturity.

He said: "That's what we intended for Xtron and Firna bonds, to hold (them) to maturity."

Earlier, Lam stood by what he told investigators about Kong, when questioned by Kong's lawyer Jason Chan of his opinions. He had called Kong "a person of great integrity, one who only thinks of the church and not for personal gain".

Mr Chan later withdrew the question, after prosecutors pointed out that if evidence of Kong's good character was taken in court, the Evidence Act allowed them to call witnesses to prove otherwise.

This article was first published on July 17, 2014.
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