The Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) has filed a Criminal Reference on April 10 with the Court of Appeal, seeking it to exercise its powers to reinstate the original convictions for City Harvest Church co-founder Kong Hee and five of his fellow church leaders.
The AGC had announced this in a statement on its next course of action, following the reduction of sentences by the High Court last Friday.
The Court of Appeal is the highest court in the land. It makes the final judgement on all cases that moves up to it in Singapore.
Judge of Appeal Chao Tick Hin, Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn in a split decision, had reduced the sentences of the six City Harvest convicts from 21 months to 8 years, to between 7 months and 3.5 years.
The appeal, for the 3 judges, turned on the following two Criminal Breach of Trust statutes:
Section 406, which reads:
Section 409, which reads:
They differed particularly on who qualifies as an “agent” under aggravated criminal breach of trust (section 409). Two out of the three, Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and High Court Justice Woo Bih Li felt this point was not adequately shown by prosecutors.
Section 409 comes with a heavier sentence of up to 20 years’ jail. It also happens to be the one the State Court judge initially convicted the six church leaders of.
Section 406 of the Penal Code, if you notice, carries a lighter sentence of up to seven years’ imprisonment.
In order for a case to be filed with the Court of Appeal successfully, there has to be a question of law that is of public interest. Put simply, that means there has to be a point in how the law was interpreted in the judgement that needs to be clarified, which has important implications for the public.
And this was exactly what AGC said in its latest statement:
"Having carefully considered the written grounds, the Prosecution is of the view that there are questions of law of public interest that have arisen out of the High Court’s decision, including and in particular, whether a director or a member of the governing body of a company or organisation who is entrusted with property, or with any dominion over property, is so entrusted in the way of his business as an agent for the purposes of section 409 of the Penal Code.
The Prosecution has accordingly filed a Criminal Reference today, to refer these questions of law to the Court of Appeal"
At a doorstop interview last Saturday, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam had said that “the matter is not over yet” and indicated that the AGC will be looking into the High Court judgement.
Shanmugam said that the government see that the legal reasoning behind the sentence reduction will have “serious implications” in future corruption cases especially when it comes to the government’s “zero tolerance approach” on corruption.
Read all our other City Harvest appeal stories because they will make you smarter:
Top photo by Chiew Teng