SINGAPORE: The highly anticipated trial involving the six leaders of one of Singapore's mega churches -- City Harvest Church -- has started.
On day 1, the prosecution laid out its case against the six defendants -- president of the church's management board Kong Hee, vice-president Tan Ye Peng, board member John Lam Leng Hung, the church's investment manager Chew Eng Han and finance managers Sharon Tan Shao Yuen and Serina Wee Gek Yin.
The hearing started with lead prosecutor Mavis Chionh laying out the prosecution's case. She said at the centre of the trial is the Building Fund monies entrusted to the church's management board and the unauthorised use of the funds to advance Sun Ho's music career.
"The question is not whether CHC and its members supported Sun Ho's music career. The question is whether the diversion of Building Fund monies towards financing her music career, under the guise of purported bond investments, was an authorised use of the Building Fund," said the prosecution.
Ms Chionh said Kong Hee, Tan Ye Peng, Chew Eng Han, John Lam and Serina Wee conspired to channel S$24 million into two companies - Xtron Productions and PT The First National Glassware (Firna), in what is described as "sham bond investments".
Chew Eng Han, Tan Ye Peng, Serina Wee and Sharon Tan are then said to have misappropriated some S$26 million to cover up the first sum. These same four church leaders also face four counts of conspiring to falsify accounts, which is said to have happened between April and October 2009.
The prosecution's case is that the monies raised through the building fund was specifically stated on pledge cards to be used for the purchase of land, construction costs, rentals and furniture. It said it is immaterial whether the accused persons thought that the promotion of Sun Ho's music career, also known as the "Crossover Project", would further the broader objectives of the church.
Ms Chionh said the prosecution will show that sham investments were used to cover up the diversion of the funds, which were used to promote Sun Ho's music career.
She said the monies were then circulated through a series of transactions engineered by four leaders, who conspired to create a false impression that the sham bond investments had been redeemed by bond issuers, when in fact, the "redemptions" were financed using church monies.
She also said a portion of the monies was also channelled to a Mr Wahju Hanafi for his personal use. This, she stressed, was also not an authorised purpose of the building fund.
The prosecution also added that the alleged offences were not isolated "technical" breaches or inadvertent, occasional missteps, but part of "a deliberately planned, meticulously coordinated, and carefully executed scheme which stretched over a prolonged period of time and involved movement of millions of dollars".
The prosecution's first witness was Ms Lai Baoting, a former accountant at the church.
She told the court that she was involved in recording entries involving millions of dollars to Xtron and AMAC Capital Partners, and that she took instructions from Serina Wee and Sharon Tan.
Ms Lai told the court that in two meetings, an auditor hired by the church, Mr Sim Guan Seng, expressed concerns over the church's dealings with Xtron as well as AMAC, an investment firm owned by Chew Eng Han.
In an email shown in court, Ms Lai signed off as a representative of Xtron Productions even though she was not its staff. She explained this was because she was doubling up as an accountant for Xtron.
Ms Lai will continue to take the stand on Thursday.
Of the six accused persons, all but one were accompanied by their spouses. Tan Ye Peng's wife was absent, while Sun Ho was seen leaving the packed courtroom shortly before the hearing started. Throughout the day, the six leaders were seen relaxed as they chatted with their friends and lawyers. - CNA/xq/ac
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