Singapore court rejects longer jail sentences for megachurch pastors convicted of fraud

(Reuters/Edgar Su)City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee (R) and his wife Sun Ho, also known as Ho Yeow Sun, arrive at the State Courts in Singapore October 21, 2015.

A Singapore court has rejected demands to impose longer jail sentences for the co-founder of a megachurch who was convicted of misusing church funds to advance his wife's music career.

Kong Hee, who co-founded City Harvest Church, was originally sentenced to eight years in jail in October 2015 for criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts, but his sentence was reduced to three-and-a-half years by the High Court last April.

The prosecution appealed the decision, demanding the reinstatement of the original sentence, but the Court of Appeal upheld the High Court ruling on Thursday.

The Court of Appeal also rejected the prosecutors' demand to reinstate the original conviction of the five other church leaders involved in the case.

Kong and the church leaders were found guilty of using Sg$24 million (US$18.19 million) from a church building fund to advance the music career of his wife, Ho Yeow Sun, who also goes by her stage name Sun Ho. They were also convicted of misappropriating another Sg$26 million (US$19.7 million) to cover up the initial crime.

State prosecutors said that the case involved the largest amount of charity funds misappropriated in Singapore's legal history.

Former finance manager Sharon Tan, who was one of the six defendants in the case, had already completed her seven-month sentence.

Chew Eng Han, the church's former fund manager, has been out on bail and was allowed to begin serving his sentence of three years and four months on Feb. 22, after the Chinese New Year.

Deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng; former finance manager Serina Wee; and former finance committee member John Lam had already started serving their reduced sentences of between one-and-a-half and three-and-a-half years in April last year.

Kong's lawyer, Edwin Tong, said that he spoke with the megachurch co-founder before the start of Thursday's hearing.

"He (Kong) said he was at peace with himself and prepared to accept whatever happened," Tong told The Straits Times.

Kong had reportedly said that he is now focusing on serving the remainder of his sentence and "getting on with his life," according to Tong.

Sun, who appeared in a 2007 music video called "China Wine" rapper Wyclef Jean, was not present in court, but she told The Straits Times over the phone that she was "just grateful to God for the result of the matter."

"I'm very thankful for everyone that has journeyed with us and prayed for us and loved us in spite of everything," she said.

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