CITY HARVEST TRIAL: Accused fed auditors a pack of lies: Prosecution

THE prosecution in the City Harvest Church case mounted a stinging rebuttal yesterday as it sought to prove it had presented enough evidence for the trial to continue.

Tearing into arguments by the defence, Chief Prosecutor Mavis Chionh strived to show again that the six accused had varyingly cooked deals to misuse church funds, “fed a pack of lies” to auditors and “created false appearances in City Harvest’s books”.

“There is clearly enough evidence for the defence to be called,” she said, after taking the court through a summary of the prosecution’s case.

She was responding to defence lawyers who had argued that, despite 42 days of trial since last May and 14 prosecution witnesses, the prosecution had failed to show enough evidence for the charges against their clients.

The defence wants the case thrown out. The judge will rule on that on May 5.

Church founder Kong Hee and five others are accused of misusing about $50 million in church funds in total. While their lawyers had consistently said auditors vetted and approved allegedly suspicious transactions, Ms Chionh said relying on this defence was “misconceived at best and disingenuous at worst” as the prosecution believes the accused hid information from the auditors.

She pointed to church auditor Sim Guan Seng, who had said earlier in the trial that he would have “raised some red flags” about certain transactions had he been privy to more information.

The defence said some of the information had existed in his audit firm Baker Tilly TFW’s archives.

By relying on the auditors’ approval as a defence now, the accused were “like the fraudster who manages to hide his own crimes, then tries to rely on his success in hiding that crime to exonerate himself”, Ms Chionh said.

She also disagreed with lawyer Andre Maniam’s assertion that his client, former finance manager Serina Wee, had not been dishonest and could not be guilty of criminal breach of trust since the “church money was used for church purposes”.

While part of the allegedly misused funds was spent to advance the pop music career of Kong’s wife Ho Yeow Sun, defence lawyers said the church had accepted her music as a form of evangelism.

Ms Chionh said the evidence showed the money had been illegally taken from the church’s building fund.

While the defence lawyers said the prosecution had taken e-mails and messages among the accused out of context and misinterpreted them, Ms Chionh disagreed, adding that “the totality of the evidence was sufficient” to call for the defence.

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