I should have started asking questions: Chew

CITY Harvest Church's fund manager Chew Eng Han yesterday conceded that he should have started asking questions when the budget for the Crossover project, fronted by Ms Ho Yeow Sun, ballooned to almost double.

But his faith, particularly in church founder Kong Hee, blinded him. "No one does due diligence on his own spiritual father," declared Chew in court, as he continued to defend himself against charges of falsifying accounts and criminal breach of trust.

The 54-year-old and five other church leaders, including Kong, have been accused of misusing some $50 million of church funds to boost Ms Ho's pop music career and then to orchestrate a web of "sham" financial transactions to mask the alleged wrongdoing.

Chew said he had initially been fully behind the Crossover project, which aimed to evangelise through the secular music of Ms Ho, Kong's wife.

When the budget swelled from $13 million to $24 million, he assumed the increase was simply due to the project "getting bigger" through the hosting of more concerts and recording of albums.

But in hindsight, Chew, who left the church in 2013, admitted that a normal fund manager would have grown suspicious.

"Was there a reason for me to doubt? Actually, yes, Your Honour... But with the experience I had with Kong Hee and Sun (Ho), and the spiritual authority and relationship, and the trust that I had developed in him, I think that was more overwhelming than my own natural mind," he said.

" I never believed that the monies would be unwisely spent or recklessly spent."

After all, Chew said, Kong and his wife had shown his family "love and care", even sending a team of pastors down to Palembang, Indonesia, after Chew's brother-in-law perished in the 1997 SilkAir Flight 185 crash.

Chew yesterday also continued to insist that what he did for the church as its fund manager was above board and according to "common" market practices.

The allegations that he had falsified accounts "puzzled" him, he said, claiming he had made no effort to hide the transactions in question, and that they had, in fact, been "made known to the auditors".

The prosecution, he went on, had used the term "round-tripping" to describe the way in which he had set up transactions allowing City Harvest Church (CHC) to lend to his own investment firm AMAC, which in turn would "on-lend" the money to Ms Ho's manager Ultimate Assets (UA).

"UA lends to (glass manufacturer) Firna, and Firna then redeems the money, the bonds back to CHC, Your Honour, this is a practice that is common in the financial markets that I come from," said Chew.

Noting that his understanding of "round-tripping" is in "money leaving the owner and going one round and coming back to the same owner of the money", Chew argued that he should not have been charged with criminal breach of trust (CBT).

"And that is where I also wonder why is there a charge for CBT? Because I understand CBT to be a misappropriation of money, with the intention to cause loss to the owner of the money. But if money goes one round from CHC to AMAC, to UA, to Firna and back to CHC, surely there can be no loss to the church."

The trial continues today, with Chew expected to wrap up his defence.


This article was first published on Jan 29, 2015.
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