City Harvest: Finance manager Sharon Tan denies intentionally deceiving auditors
City Harvest Church (CHC) finance manager Sharon Tan yesterday cried for the third time while on the witness stand.
It happened while she was being grilled on why she had allegedly falsified minutes of a board meeting in an attempt to deceive the auditors.
Tan eventually admitted that the minutes could have deceived the auditors before she turned her back to the public gallery and started sobbing.
The hearing was adjourned for 40 minutes for her to regain her composure.
Tan, CHC founder Kong Hee and four others are accused of misusing millions of church funds.
Some of this money was allegedly used to fund the music career of singer Sun Ho through sham bonds invested into two "shell companies" - music production firm Xtron Productions and glass manufacturer Firna.
The remaining funds were then allegedly channelled from the church in a "round-tripping exercise" to cover up the initial amount.
Yesterday, Chief Prosecutor Mavis Chionh asserted that Tan had falsified documents to create a "paper trail" to cover up the tracks of the round-tripping exercise, which was meant to clear the alleged sham bonds off CHC's books. One example was Tan allegedly amending the contents of the September 2009 CHC board minutes.
Ms Chionh also presented an e-mail sent by former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han that showed Tan and her co-accused had finalised the amount to be round-tripped for the Firna bonds to be redeemed only in October 2009.
This figure was "retrospectively inserted" into the September 2009 board minutes, said Ms Chionh. Likewise, the minutes showed that the board had discussed and approved CHC paying advance rent of $7 million to Xtron over eight years.
Ms Chionh said these figures were also confirmed after the September 2009 board meeting.
"Why do you find it necessary to do these things? Falsely inserting into board minutes of meeting information about things which didn't happen at that meeting but only... later," said Ms Chionh.
"When (the auditors) look at... your minutes, (their) understanding would be a false understanding because... no such approval... was given by the board on Sept 12."
Tan struggled to respond, prompting Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon to try to help her understand Ms Chionh's question.
He said: "Ms Tan, if I read that statement there, I would understand that those figures were approved on Sept 12, 2009. Does that help you answer the question?"
Ms Chionh then further pressed her assertion that the auditors would have been deceived.
Tan replied: "Your Honour, it might be seen like they are being deceived. But, Your Honour, it wasn't my intention."
She then broke down.
Ms Chionh asked the judge for a break.
After the adjournment, Tan continued sobbing on the witness stand for about five minutes before leaving the courtroom.
Tan had cried last Wednesday when she was asked by her lawyer, Senior Counsel Kannan Ramesh, if she had any corrections in her statement to the Commercial Affairs Department.
She broke down again the following day when Mr Ramesh questioned her about her husband and children.
Tan eventually returned to the stand after 40 minutes, still teary-eyed and red-nosed.
After the hearing resumed, Ms Chionh again asserted that the board had not been told of the "round-tripping" plans and that the allegedly falsified minutes would have given the auditors a false understanding.
Tan said she disagreed.
The trial continues on Monday.
ABOUT THE CASE
City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and five others are on trial for allegedly misusing church funds through sham bonds.
First, $24 million was allegedly used to fund the music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, whose stage name is Sun Ho. Then another $26.6 million was used to allegedly cover up the first amount.
They are said to have done this through music production firm Xtron and glass manufacturer Firna, run by long-time supporters of the church.
Kong, former board member John Lam, finance manager Sharon Tan, former fund manager Chew Eng Han, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng and former finance manager Serina Wee face charges of criminal breach of trust and/or falsifying accounts.
Prosecutors had sought to show how Xtron and Firna directors simply did the accused's bidding.
The defence has argued that the transactions were legitimate, with the accused acting "in good faith" on the advice of lawyers and auditors.