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Ronald Loh
Sunday, Aug 10, 2014

Singapore

CHC board member 'didn't discuss my defence'

The New Paper | Ronald Loh | Sunday, Aug 10, 2014

WORRIED: Serina Wee wanted to meet co-accused before the trial as she felt they were on a “different page” regarding their defence.

Serina Wee was worried.

Following a meeting with co-accused Chew Eng Han before Feb 3 last year, she felt that they were on a "different page" on their evidence ahead of their trial.

So she asked to meet up with Chew again, along with two of the other accused, John Lam and Sharon Tan. This exchange in an e-mail chain was revealed by the prosecution in court yesterday after Lam claimed he had never met with his co-accused to discuss what they should say during the trial.

The four City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders, CHC founder Kong Hee and deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng are accused of misusing more than $50 million of church funds in sham bond investments.

Some of this money went to fund the music career of Kong's pop singer-wife, Ms Sun Ho, and the rest was used to cover up the first amount. (See report, below.)

The trial started in May last year.

Yesterday, Chief Prosecutor Mavis Chionh asked former CHC board member Lam, 46, the first accused to take the stand for the defence, if he had ever spoken to his co-accused about what to say during his defence.

Lam's reply: "No."

That was when Ms Chionh presented copies of the e-mail chain, which had been submitted by Chew and were admitted after a closed-door session on Tuesday.

Ms Chionh said Chew had written in his e-mail dated in February 2013 that, following a discussion with his co-accused, he realised that "we swung to the other extreme view in 2010 and now we are swinging to the other extreme".

But Lam denied any involvement in the discussion, even though he admitted he did meet up with the other accused - except Kong - at a meeting.

"I did not discuss my defence," he maintained as Ms Chionh questioned him at least twice.

Ms Chionh also pointed out that Lam had e-mailed Chew that Wee and Sharon Tan were concerned about the "round-tripping charge". Wee was CHC's finance manager and was succeeded by Sharon Tan in 2007.

The prosecution has been trying to show that the accused had planned to move millions of dollars through sham bond investments, which were financed using the church's monies through a series of round-tripping transactions (by falsifying the church's accounts to make it seem like these bonds were "redeemed").

But Lam said he did not know if the two women wanted to meet with Chew to "get on the same page (as him)", as asked by Ms Chionh.

"The two ladies weren't comfortable meeting up with (Chew) Eng Han by themselves. They asked me to help," he said.

INTERRUPTIONS

The last 45 minutes of yesterday's hearing also saw Ms Chionh repeatedly interrupted by various defence councils as she attempted to question Lam on the e-mail and details of their meeting.

Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon stepped in and allowed Ms Chionh to carry on.

Ms Chionh then told Lam: "If you are an honest accused person who is going to go to court and tell the truth ... you would not be trying to meet up with your co-accused and worry that they are taking a different view from yours." Lam said he disagreed.

Before Ms Chionh wrapped up the cross-examination, she told Lam: "Your defence in this trial has essentially been one of 'I don't know', 'Nobody told me', and 'If they did tell me, they didn't ask me for advice'.

"But when we look at your status within the church, your financial expertise, and the documentary evidence... your defence is not only untenable, it is deeply cynical."

Lam's lawyer, Mr Kenneth Tan, is expected to continue with the re-examination today.

CITY HARVEST CHURCH LEADERS TRIAL

City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and five others are on trial for allegedly misusing church funds through sham bonds.

This includes $24 million to fund the music career of Kong's wife Sun Ho, and another $26.6 million to cover up the first amount.

They are said to have done this through two companies run by long-time supporters of the megachurch - production firm Xtron and glass manufacturer Firna.

Kong, former board member John Lam, finance manager Sharon Tan, former investment manager Chew Eng Han, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng and former finance manager Serina Wee, face varying charges of criminal breach of trust and/or falsifying accounts.

Prosecutors had sought to show how Xtron and Firna directors had simply done the bidding of the accused.

Meanwhile, the defence has argued that the transactions were legitimate, with the accused acting "in good faith" on the advice of lawyers and auditors.


This article was first published on August 8, 2014.
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