Still no end in sight 6 years into City Harvest Church misappropriation scandal
No indication when judgement will be issued due to case's complexity.
It has been more than six years since the City Harvest Church misappropriation scandal entered public consciousness.
When word of the case first broke back in 2010, a segment of the public could not wait for it to get started. But now, it seems they cannot wait for it to come to an end.
With the appeal hearing officially concluded on Sept. 21, 2016, it is a matter of time before the judgement is passed by the Justices who heard the case.
Here is how one of the most complicated cases in Singapore’s history got dragged out over the years.
On May 31, 2010, investigations into City Harvest Church began.
The Office of the Commissioner of Charities and the Commercial Affairs Department of the Singapore Police started their probe. More than 16 individuals linked to the church, including founder Kong Hee and his wife, Sun Ho, were hauled up.
Alarm bells sounded, as investigations into the megachurch — that looked to have been a long time coming — finally started.
Murmurings that the church was paying for the pastor’s wife’s music career were made public as early as 2003 by a whistle-blower.
It would take more than a decade for the truth to come out.
It would take more than two years before the investigations could be completed and the Commissioner of Charities could release a press statement.
It was, by then, June 26, 2012, a day that would go down in the annals of history as an important day.
The press statement stated that there were misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of City Harvest Church.
In the early hours of that same day, a Tuesday, Kong Hee and four other CHC leaders were arrested in a pre-dawn raid and charged with misuse of funds.
A subsequent report indicated that the initial investigations were triggered by complaints made to the authorities.
Kong and seven others were suspended from their roles in the church.
Five of them were charged in court for the offences the very next day on June 27, 2012.
This group that was initially charged, excluded Serina Wee. She only became the sixth CHC leader to be charged a month later on July 25, 2012. Her bail at that time was also set at S$500,000.
On that same day evening, a Wednesday, in a statement e-mailed via his lawyer’s firm, Allen & Gledhill, Kong said: “I do maintain my integrity and will rigorously defend (it) against these charges.”
He said he was confident he would be vindicated.
The trial started officially on May 15, 2013.
Two days before that, the suspension orders placed on Sun Ho were lifted with immediate effect, said the COC.
Throughout the duration of the suspension, Ho could not hold any office or employment with the charity.
In a statement posted on the church’s website, executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain said: “Sun is once again able to exercise her executive powers for City Harvest Church.”
Ho said in the same statement: “I am truly glad that I have been fully vindicated.”
What was expected to be a long trial, played out exactly as expected.
The trial in 2013 was held in May, August and September.
After which it was adjourned to January 2014, continued in early February and early April before it was adjourned again to July.
Kong took the stand and was grilled throughout August 2014.
Sharon Tan was grilled throughout September and early October.
The trial was then adjourned again to January 2015.
In a few key days in February and throughout March, Tan Ye Peng took the stand.
In April and May, it was Serina Wee’s turn.
In May 2015, for a brief period of time, Sun Ho took the stand as defence witness.
In all, the trial stretched over 142 days, making it one of the longest criminal cases in Singapore’s history, beaten only by a drug trafficking case in the 1990s that went on for 168 days.
On Oct. 21, 2015, all six CHC leaders were found guilty of all charges levelled against them, including criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts.
A month later, on Nov. 20, all six were sentenced to jail.
The sentences for the six accused were scheduled to start on Jan. 11, 2016, after it was deferred.
On Nov. 27, 2015, the Attorney-General’s Chambers filed appeals against the sentence issued to the six church leaders, on the grounds that it is “manifestly inadequate”.
On Dec. 2, 2015, Kong Hee and the other five defendants also filed appeals to overturn their conviction.
On March 4, 2016, it was reported that the appeal hearing would commence in September.
The appeal ran from Sept. 16 to 21, 2016.
At the close of appeal hearing, Justice Chao Hick Tin adjourned the case to give the judges time to go through the trial’s voluminous record.
Justice Chao said: “This is something we need to give special consideration to… we can only promise you a judgment ASAP.”
No date for a judgment was given.
Top photo via City News