It wasn’t a moment of triumph for either side.
City Harvest Church (CHC) members and supporters of the six criminals are certainly disappointed by the three-man panel of High Court judges’ decision to uphold their convictions.
The City Harvest-hating section of the (online) public is perhaps equally, if not more, dismayed by their significant reductions in sentences — Kong Hee received a 56 per cent discount on his, Sharon Tan got hers cut by two-thirds, while Serina Wee and John Lam enjoyed 50 per cent cuts to theirs, for instance.
We’ve talked about the outcome of the appeal, already, and now, the six Kongvicts have 30 days to mull over a 304-page judgement, and consider whether or not to put a question of public interest to the Court of Appeal, the highest court in the land.
Meanwhile, here are five things we noticed from Friday morning’s flurry of activity at the Supreme Court:
1. There is a conspicuous lack of remorse on the part of CHC and its key leaders.
Let’s begin by showing you the responses shared by City Harvest’s main leaders in these hours following the outcome of the appeal of the six convicts:
– City Harvest Church executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain, and its management board
The sentiment: “we are deeply saddened”; “it’s been a hard journey”; “difficult time”. It’s decidedly vague.
– Kong Hee
“thankful”; “conviction being upheld is not what I have hoped for”; “thank you for all the love”. Sure, it’s good to be grateful and thankful, but what about the wrong you did? What about the way you led your team to mislead your flock? There’s zero recognition or even the faintest sign of acknowledgement of that.
– Sun Ho
Well, nothing so far on social media. Apart from this from The Straits Times:
“a difficult time”, without a doubt. We just wonder if she’s apologised to her followers for, um, letting them bankroll her career without their clear knowledge.
2. There is a huge gap in perception of the case that continues to exist, between the church’s members and the public.
But then again, can you really blame them (CHC-goers)? Just take a look at Friday’s City News updates on the outcome of the appeal:
And in their article:
Reading the above paragraphs — the only ones covering the judgement — can only make one wonder why their convictions weren’t overturned.
The City News article for instance omitted the following line from Justice Chao’s oral judgement. This is the full statement:
“In our view, the present case should not be viewed as a sinister and malicious attempt on the appellants’ part to strip the church of funds for their own purposes. We accept that the appellants resorted to deceit and lies in order to keep the use of the BF for the Crossover confidential and because they feared that questions would be asked.”
Here’re two important things that were missed out, for instance:
a) Their falsification of accounts —
On this front, all three judges agreed with Presiding Judge See’s decision at the State Court level:
“We find that the entries were made in CHC’s accounts and were false, that the relevant appellants abetted each other by engaging in a conspiracy to make the false entries in CHC’s accounts, and that in engaging in the conspiracy, the appellants were aware that the entries were false and possessed an intention to defraud. We therefore affirm the Judge’s conviction of Tan Ye Peng, Sharon Tan, Chew Eng Han and Serina Wee on the account falsification charges. Accordingly, we dismiss the appeals of these four appellants against their convictions on these charges.”
b) Their lies and deceit at numerous turns throughout —
The six resorted to deceit and lies in order to conceal the fact that building funds were used to pay for the Crossover project, out of fear that questions would be asked. These included:
– inflating Sun Ho’s success;
– keeping the true nature of the transactions from the church, its board, the church’s lawyers, and even their auditors;
– presenting a misleading picture of what was going on to church members even while a Commercial Affairs Department investigation was going on.
3. It’s pretty clear the prosecutors lost this round.
If any of you have been following the case since its years in court, during the trial (which is now over, by the way, City News), you’ll know that the prosecutors in the CHC case are a fiery lot.
Check out a random sampling of three mainstream media headlines we found, all quotable quotes from CHC’s lead prosecutor, Mavis Chionh:
Such confidently-spoken lines would not have come from a timid, uncertain DPP who wasn’t sure what she was doing. It was, after all, the prosecution that secured its victory in the case at the State Courts.
It’s a different story this time round, though — Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin even pointed out in the oral judgement he read out in court on Friday a key argument they could have made in their appeal to increase the convicts’ sentences, which they for some reason neglected to.
That wasn’t all — Judges Chao and Justice Woo Bih Li also felt prosecutors failed to adequately show how Kong, Tan and Lam were “agents” to CHC: one of the requirements that needed to be proven before the six could be found guilty of the more severe Section 409 of the Penal Code (more here).
And while Justice Chan Seng Onn agree somewhat with the prosecution’s stance, his proved to be the minority voice.
But even Justice Chan has this to say about the prosecution:
“The position taken by the Prosecution on the direct benefit that had accrued to Sun Ho, and the indirect benefit that might have accrued to Kong Hee, is even less clear or consistent. Neither of these points featured in its submissions before the Judge. In fact, neither of these points featured in its written submissions before us…
In essence, the Prosecution on appeal is in fact relying on the existence of a direct benefit being conferred on Sun Ho by the appellants as a factor in sentencing. However, the Prosecution did not go further and submit that Kong Hee had obtained a form of indirect benefit that ought to be counted against him as an aggravating factor or to show that his motives for the use of the criminally misappropriated monies were not entirely altruistic. Instead, the Prosecution appears to accept that all the appellants did not benefit “personally”, but submits that the Judge had placed too much weight on this mitigating factor.”
So really, and regrettably, CHC’s prosecutors failed this round.
4. At this juncture, the CHC leaders clinched the narrative of the day for their supporters and members.
On the other end, perhaps arguably at their most crucial moment, the six City Harvest leaders (okay, well, five, since Chew Eng Han no longer associates himself with them or with CHC) came through and gave their followers all the “evidence” they needed to vindicate their morality.
Just see how City News reported the outcome above, for instance. And one only has to glance further down from the excerpt we showed you to the paragraphs that followed to see how their supporters responded:
“Consultant Lester Chee, 28, says, “I’m grateful that the High Court deliberated and decided on a reduced sentence. We prayed for the best and I’m thankful that it’s still a win for us. God is still good and He has heard our prayers. Right now the most important thing is to stay united and trust in God.”
Real estate agent Gan Sok Hoon, 41, echoed Chee’s sentiments. “I believe in the church and our leaders. No matter what the outcome is, we need to continue to stay united and stand strong as a church. We’ve got to continue to believe and to do God’s work.””
Regardless how you feel about the objectivity of those two quotes, one can safely assume it is quite representative of the more-than-50, probably closer to 100, supporters who travelled down to camp either overnight or in the wee hours of Friday morning, just so they could be there to give Tan a hug when she emerged from the courtroom crying.
The confirmation we’re looking for of our assertion here will likely come in the coming two days, when the church gathers for its weekend services.
5. And the real winners of this entire
And also, of course, all the other senior counsel — and their
armies teams — who served the other five too, until Chew decided to take matters into his own hands.
We’ll just leave this Straits Times article excerpt here and walk slowly away:
Read all our other City Harvest appeal stories because they will make you smarter:
Top photo by Chiew Teng