SINGAPORE: One of the City Harvest Church members embroiled in the multi—million dollar criminal breach of trust trial wants a Queen’s Counsel —— Caplan Jonathan Michael, who has experience in serious fraud cases and cases involving Criminal Breach of Trust —— to defend him, and a court hearing into that application began on Monday.
The church’s investment manager Chew Eng Han said there is a lack of available local senior counsel with the appropriate expertise to represent him.
Lawyer P.E. Ashokan argued that Chew had taken reasonable steps to secure a local senior counsel to fight his case. He had engaged two senior counsel in the early stages of the criminal proceedings, but due to issues of conflict, they were unable to act for him. Mr Ashokan noted that efforts to engage other local senior counsel had come to naught.
"Therefore it is clear that Mr Chew is unable to engage a local senior counsel to defend him in the criminal proceedings through no fault of his, and due to very exceptional circumstances where most of the senior counsel in Singapore are unable to act for him," he added.
His case is also unique in that he faces the possibility of unequal representation as all but one of the other five co—accused have hired senior counsel to defend them.
Chew is among six church leaders accused of conspiring to cheat the church of millions of dollars. They are alleged to have funnelled S$24 million into sham bond investments to further the career of senior pastor Kong Hee’s pop singer wife, Sun Ho.
The six are also said to have misappropriated another S$26.6 million to cover up the first sum.
The Attorney—General’s Chambers, the Public Prosecutor and the Law Society have all raised objections to the application, saying that the legal and factual issues of the case are not complex enough to require specialist foreign senior counsel.
The Law Society said that there are lawyers in Singapore, who may not necessarily be senior counsel, with the relevant expertise who can run Chew’s defence but have not been approached.
Ms Aurill Kam, who represented the AGC, described Mr Ashokan’s point of the case being complex as an "exaggerated claim". Mr Ashokan had pointed out that the documents relating to the transactions are voluminous, with statements from the accused persons alone numbering about 8,000 pages.
Ms Kam rebuked this, saying Mr Ashokan’s claim conflates volume with complexity.
Mr Christopher Daniel, who represented the Law Society threw up some names and said that there was no explanation as to why these lawyers were not approached.
"One can make the point that he (Chew) wanted a senior counsel, and not to find a lawyer with the expertise who can run his defence," he noted. This prompted Justice V.K Rajah to point out that most senior counsels specialise in commercial matters, and that the best criminal lawyers are not senior counsels.
Justice V.K. Rajah will deliver his verdict on Tuesday.
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