SINGAPORE: The High Court on Tuesday dismissed an application by City Harvest Church member Chew Eng Han to engage a Queen’s Counsel to defend him. He is one of six church leaders accused of conspiring to cheat the church of millions of dollars.
City Harvest Church investment manager Chew Eng Han wanted an elite lawyer to fight his case in the upcoming criminal breach of trust trial.
He claimed he could not find a local senior counsel with the appropriate expertise to assist him, and wanted to enlist the help of a Queen’s Counsel from the UK.
Chew, together with five other church leaders, is accused of funnelling S$24 million into sham bond investments to further the career of pop singer Sun Ho —— the wife of the church’s senior pastor, Kong Hee.
The six are also said to have misappropriated another S$26.6 million dollars to cover up the first sum.
On Tuesday, Chew’s application to engage a Queen’s Counsel was dismissed by High Court Judge VK Rajah.
Justice Rajah said the legal and factual issues of the case are not complex and do not involve novel points of law that cannot be managed by a competent local counsel.
Chew’s lawyer, Mr P.E Ashokan, had put forth the argument that there were novel issues in the case that would require a Queen’s Counsel’s expertise, highlighting that the decision of the case would have serious repercussions on the dynamics and boundaries of corporate governance for charitable or religious entities.
He added that Chew’s case not only provided an opportunity to examine the issues and dynamics of corporate governance in the context of propagating faith, but would help illuminate as to whether there could be criminal intention when the money was ultimately used to fund a project that met the church’s aim of spreading the Christian faith.
Justice Rajah said these were "overstatements" and added that he did not find that there were legal issues with wider ramifications. Justice Rajah also noted that Chew had failed to identify any exceptional circumstances that required the services of foreign legal counsel, and that his efforts to engage local legal counsel were neither objectively reasonable nor conscientious.
He observed that some senior counsels Chew approached had not appeared in court for a considerable amount of time, and noted that a substantial pool of competent lawyers remained to be tapped on.
Justice Rajah said that "the documents, though voluminous, are not beyond the management of competent local counsel." He added that Chew was the "sole author of his predicament".
On Monday, the lawyer for the Law Society, Christopher Daniel, had raised the point that Chew was adamant on engaging only a senior counsel, and not lawyers with the expertise to run his defence.
When asked if he plans to look outside of the senior counsel circle, Chew said he has not formed any concrete plans and may have to be open to anything if left without a choice.
"It’s natural that when someone is fighting for his life, he will look for the best," he told reporters.
The trial is slated to begin in May this year. Chew said that if it becomes necessary and that he needs time to prepare his lawyer, he will ask for a deferment of dates.
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