“SINGAPORE – City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee was the first of five church leaders convicted of misappropriating millions from the church’s funds to arrive at the State Courts on Friday (April 21) to surrender himself and begin his jail term.
Kong, 52, was flanked by two men as he entered the State Courts building at around 8.30am even as it rained outside. He will be jailed for 3½ years, the longest sentence of the convicted church leaders.
“I am totally at peace and I’m grateful to God for this. I have nothing more to say, just let me thank my friends,” said Kong.
Church supporters had earlier been streaming into the building, with about 20 of them seen outside a court room. Kong made his way to the court room and met with the supporters outside. He hugged some of them, with several becoming teary eyed.
Former CHC finance manager Sharon Tan, 41, arrived next. She faces the shortest jail sentence of seven months among the church leaders.
Former church finance committee member John Lam, 49, was third to reach the courts. Lam’s jail sentence is 1½ years. He and Kong later shared a long hug outside the court room.
Close to 9am, Kong entered the court room and waved goodbye to supporters, which had grown to about 40 strong by then. Sharon Tan and Lam followed suit to surrender themselves.
Just after 9am, CHC’s deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44, reached the courts. Tan Ye Peng faces a jail term of three years and two months.
The last of the five church leaders to arrive was former finance manager Serina Wee, 40, who will serve 2 ½ years in prison. Wee was with her husband Kenny Low, and she arrived shortly after Tan Ye Peng.
Outside the court room, tears were streaming down Wee’s face as she hugged her husband, adding that she would miss him. Both entered the court room after that.
Both Sharon Tan and Wee had their hair cut short.
By 9.20am, the five church leaders were in the court room to surrender themselves. A sixth church leader, former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 56, was allowed to delay starting his sentence.
One church member of 12 years, who wanted to be known only as Gerald and was outside the court room, said that he was overwhelmed.
“Of course, we are deeply saddened. But as Pastor Kong said, we have to stand together and trust in God,” the 27-year-old said. “We have to keep the church going while pastor is away so that the church becomes stronger when he is back.”
The six CHC leaders were found guilty of misusing $50 million in church funds and had their jail terms cut on April 7, after the High Court reduced their criminal breach of trust charge to a less serious one on appeal.
They will now serve between seven months and 3½ years, down from the jail terms of between 21 months and eight years handed out in 2015.
Four of them requested to defer their sentences by two weeks to spend Easter with their families.
Sharon Tan was initially granted a two-month deferment to attend to matters as her husband was relocating the family to the United States on an expatriate package.
But the court on Wednesday (April 19) granted her request to start serving her sentence earlier.
The sixth church leader, Chew, was allowed to delay starting his sentence of three years and four months’ jail until the Court of Appeal has made its final ruling on important questions of law that have arisen from the case.
The church told its congregation on Thursday, in an updated list of questions and answers on its website, that “the best way to support the six is to continue in prayer”.
“Also, as you can imagine, their families have many needs. As always, keep them and their families in prayer,” it added.
The church also informed members that only approved visitors, who will mostly be family members, will be able to visit, and included guidelines on writing letters to them.
In a message on the church’s website on Friday, CHC executive pastors Aries Zulkarnain and Bobby Chaw said that the church would pray for the convicted leaders safety and protection, urging members to keep them in their prayers.
“Let’s also pray ceaselessly for their families, that through this period, God’s peace will fill them and His protection and grace will be upon them,” they said, while encouraging church members to continue attending service.
After reporting to the State Courts, the convicted church leaders are expected to be taken down to the lock-up in the basement, to be taken to jail in prison buses, said lawyers not related to the case.”