When the High Court halved the sentences of City Harvest Church leaders in its recent judgement, Singapore's social media exploded with anger and disbelief.
Many netizens felt that the court was being too lenient to founding pastor Kong Hee and his management team, who embezzled over $50 million in church funds to fund his wife's lavish pop star lifestyle in the United States.
A lawyer from IRB Law LLP explains that the reason behind the reduced sentences is related to whether the judges sees Kong Hee and the other leaders as "agents" under section 409 of the Penal Code. Section 409 of the Penal Code is an aggravated form of Criminal Breach of Trust.
He wrote: "The offence of Criminal Breach of Trust (‘CBT’) exists in various forms. There are different maximum sentences for: Simple CBT (Maximum imprisonment term of 7 years); CBT by a carrier (Maximum jail term of 15 years); CBT by a clerk or servant (Maximum jail term of 15 years); CBT by a public servant, banker, merchant or agent (Maximum jail term of life imprisonment or 20 years)."
"To convict the CHC members under the most aggravated form of CBT, the prosecution would have had to prove not only that the CHC members were guilty of criminal breach of trust, but also that they were in fact agents. The purpose of this article, it is best not to delve into what constitutes an ‘agent’ as that probably deserves an entire article on its own, but it would suffice to say that in agency relationships, there is a very high level of trust vested in the agent."
"To put it simply, the High Court agreed that the CHC members were guilty of CBT but did not find that the relationship between the offenders and the church to be one that involved agency."
On why the court sentenced a man who stole $1,900 from a Mosque more harshly than it sentenced Kong Hee and the others, IRB had this to say: "The individual who was convicted of stealing $1,900.00 was not charged with theft, but with the offence of ‘house-breaking by night’ to commit theft. This is an aggravated form of house-breaking, and the section under which he was convicted imposes a mandatory minimum sentence of 2 years imprisonment. Furthermore, this individual had committed the act of housebreaking by night 12 times on different occasions, and it appears that he was convicted of four charges of housebreaking by night to commit theft."
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