By: Amanda Yong
IN THE four years that Ren Ci hospital was floundering financially, its founder and then CEO Shi Ming Yi was leading a life of luxury.
From a multi-million dollar condominium in Singapore to properties in Australia and Seattle, the 47-year-old monk had them all. He also owned a luxury car, a racehorse named Venezuela and went on diving holidays.
And he bought them all while Ren Ci was, by his own account, suffering from financial difficulties.
Details of the assets he owned and the gilded lifestyle he enjoyed were revealed in court yesterday when Ming Yi took the stand for the fifth day of the trial.
And as the details trickled out under intense grilling by deputy public prosecutor (DPP) Jaswant Singh, Ming Yi's zen-like composure appeared to be rattled.
At times, his voice was raised higher as he answered the questions that came in rapid-fire succession.
One terse exchange took place when DPP Singh suggested that Ming Yi's 'evidence that you were so selflessly motivated to look after Ren Ci and Fook Hai Ch'an (Monastery)' was 'an embellishment'.
The monk said: 'I think actions speak louder than words.' He added that others would know what he had done for Ren Ci.
To that, DPP Singh said: 'Yes, indeed, your actions did speak louder than words in Perth.'
Ming Yi: 'I have my flaws, but that does not mean that I am not taking good care of Ren Ci and Foo Hai Ch'an.'
DPP Singh: 'You looked after yourself when Ren Ci needed money.'
Ming Yi: 'I took good care of the patients.'
DPP Singh: 'You looked after yourself.'
Ming Yi: 'I looked after myself but also the patients.'
The prosecution produced documents showing evidence of the various big-ticket purchases Ming Yi made. The first, bought in the late '80s, was a piece of property in Mountbatten Road that housed Chao Yin lodge, run by Ming Yi.
It was bought under his name and financed by donations from devotees and a mortgage loan from a bank. He used money from the sale of this property to buy a two-storey semi-detached house in Bedok Ria Crescent where the lodge was relocated.
Ming Yi later bought an apartment at The Atria at Meyer Road.
DPP Singh asked: 'Between 1994 and 1998, while Ren Ci was struggling in finances, you yourself had no problems buying a house, buying land, buying a BMW, buying a horse, being a country club member. Correct?'
'Yes,' Ming Yi replied.
The DPP then asked: 'So while Ren Ci and Foo Hai Ch'an were having financial difficulties, you were not? Did you think you should have put money in Ren Ci instead of buying things for yourself?'
He added: 'You believe in helping people, Ren Ci was your baby... what you have not told the court today is that you were building a property empire by yourself. How do you gel these?'
Ming Yi said that he bought the Atria apartment as an investment for Ren Ci. 'Unfortunately, I'm not a person who knows how to manage property.'
He added that he did think of channelling his own money to Ren Ci's coffers to help his ailing organisation and had suggested it to a few of his board members.
But they advised against it, he said.
Ming Yi's first overseas property buy was a piece of land in Perth. The joint owner was Mr Wee Beng Seng, an ex-treasurer of Ren Ci.
He then had a house built for him in Perth.
DPP Singh asked: 'You want the court to believe that you're trying to do your utmost as far as Ren Ci was concerned. Isn't it true that you were enjoying the good life in Perth?'
Ming Yi replied that he 'did not really go and stay there. I was there only three to four times'. Under further cross-examination, Ming Yi later said that he went to Perth once or twice a year.
In Perth, he also bought a BMW S540 executive series car.
But looking puzzled when it was raised by DPP Singh, he said he could not recall 'this whole thing' even after he had pored over the offer-to-purchase document shown to him. He repeatedly claimed he could not remember buying the car.
DPP Singh persisted: 'Even if you don't remember this, are you satisfied that this is your signature?'
Ming Yi said he was.
When asked if he had made any other purchases, he revealed that he had bought a horse in Perth.
'I was told that the horses need somebody to rear them, but later on, I found that the owner used it to go horse-racing... I thought he was meant to look after the horse, but not for racing purposes,' he said.
The court was also told that Ming Yi and Mr Wee were joint members of the Vines Golf & Country Club in Perth, 'one of the more upmarket resorts in Western Australia', DPP Singh said.
Ming Yi's other purchases: A house in Seattle in the US, a two-storey bungalow and a penthouse in Melbourne, both of which he bought with Yeung.
When asked by DPP Singh if it was 'okay for a monk to own properties in various parts of the world' and if that was 'what a modern monk does', he replied: 'That's what a lot of people do.'
DPP Singh suggested that Ming Yi 'believed in luxury'.
But the monk said: 'I think I can be very flexible. I can go to a village in Sri Lanka to stay there, I can go to villages in China and stay there, northern part of China to stay there, Thailand to stay there.'
The court also learnt that Ming Yi shared an Australian Citibank account with Mr Wee to finance their Australian expenses.
Asked about two withdrawals of A$900 ($1,000) made from an ATM at Burswood Casino in Perth in 2002, Ming Yi said it was Mr Wee who had made the withdrawals.
'From birth to now, I've never been to any casino,' Ming Yi said.
He also admitted that diving was one of his hobbies and that he had gone on diving holidays. But no details of these holidays were revealed in court.
The trial continues on Monday.
This article was first published in The New Paper.