SINGAPORE,. Adamant that he “did not want to be convicted” and sent to jail, and feeling a sense of “injustice and (unfairness)” over his court case, former leader of City Harvest Church (CHC) Chew Eng Han had contemplated leaving the country on multiple occasions.
At the start of his trial yesterday, the court heard that the 58-year-old had toyed with the idea of skipping town as early as October last year.
The former fund manager with CHC — who was convicted for criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts involving more than S$50 million (RM151.32 million) of church funds in 2015 — was due to start serving his sentence on Feb 22 this year. But on Feb 21, he was arrested for trying to flee the country on a motorised sampan.
Chew has claimed trial to two charges — one for attempting to leave the country illegally, and another for trying to avoid serving his sentence for an earlier offence of criminal breach of trust.
Now serving his sentence for criminal breach of trust, Chew appeared in court on Monday (Sept 24) dressed in a purple prison garb and wearing a pair of black-framed spectacles.
He chose not to give evidence on the stand and there were no other defence witnesses called. He will return to court on Nov 13.
The prosecution made the case that Chew had already attempted to leave the country in boarding the motorised sampan from Pulau Ubin, which was headed for an agreed-upon location north-east of the island, from where he would board a second boat to head to Malaysia.
Deputy Public Prosecutors Christopher Ong and Eugene Sng are also arguing that in seeking to leave the country to “entirely avoid serving his sentence”, Chew was attempting to defeat the course of justice.
Three Police Coast Guard officers took the stand as part of the prosecution’s case.
Chew’s attempt to leave Singapore
In October last year, Chew looked around for ways to leave the country illegally, and got acquainted with Khoo Kea Leng, a Malaysian freelance driver who regularly ferried people between Singapore and Malaysia.
Khoo initially offered to set him up with contacts who could get him to Johor Baru illegally by car at a cost of S$18,000, but Chew declined.
Chew re-contacted Khoo sometime on Feb 20 this year, to ask if Khoo could help him leave Singapore by boat. He was told to fork out some S$12,000 and asked to prepare fishing equipment to disguise himself.
The plan was to head into Johor Baru via two boats. Chew handed S$8,000 to Khoo, and was told to pass the other S$4,000 to the second boatman who would take him into Malaysia.
On Feb 21, Chew set off from Changi Village to Pulau Ubin jetty, where he boarded a boat piloted by boatman Tan Poh Teck.
Tan was to take him to four fish farms north-east of Pulau Ubin, close to the boundary between Singapore and Malaysia, where Chew was to board a second boat into Malaysia.
But at around 8.43am, their boat was intercepted by Police Coast Guard officers in the vicinity of Chek Jawa Wetlands and Pulau Sekudu, and Chew was later arrested.
Accomplices in attempted escape
Malaysian freelance driver Khoo Kea Leng: Sentenced to six months’ jail in April for abetting Chew, by conspiring with him on Feb 20 to map out how to leave Singapore from Pulau Ubin, which is an unauthorised point of departure.
Singaporean boatman Tan Poh Teck: Sentenced to 27 weeks’ jail in July, after he admitted to abetting Chew in illegally leave the country.
Malaysian Tan Kim Ho: Sentenced to six months’ jail in July. He had made arrangements for Chew to escape Singapore from Pulau Ubin on Feb 21.
In 2015, Chew — along with five other former CHC leaders, including church founder Kong Hee — was convicted for criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts involving more than S$50 million of church funds. It was the biggest scandal involving a charity in Singapore’s history.
A subsequent High Court appeal by the six leaders saw their convictions being upheld, but their sentences reduced. Chew’s aggregate sentence of six years’ jail was cut by nearly half.
Chew made two tries to challenge his conviction for criminal breach of trust but they were dismissed by the court.
In February this year, the Court of Appeal rejected the prosecution’s bid to reinstate the longer jail terms of the six leaders. One had completed her sentence by then, while four were serving time, but Chew was on bail after seeking multiple deferments. Chew asked to defer his sentence again that month to spend Chinese New Year with his family. — TODAY