Chew Eng Han seeks second bid to fight City Harvest case conviction

Former City Harvest Church (CHC) fund manager Chew Eng Han, 57, one of the six people convicted of misusing millions in church funds, will be back before the Court of Appeal next Wednesday (Sept 6).

For the second time, Chew, the only one of the six who has not started serving his jail term, is seeking to challenge his conviction for criminal breach of trust (CBT).

Chew's first attempt to refer nearly 60 questions to the apex court was rejected on July 3 for not meeting the required threshold.

He had tried to raise questions on 10 broad areas, including whether there can be misappropriation under circumstances in which money is taken away not for personal use, but applied for the owner's use.

On Aug 1, he filed another criminal motion seeking leave to raise a new question, on whether his conviction, which he argues is based on an "unprecedented" declaration of law, amounted to a violation of his constitutional rights.

The motion was filed on the same day that the court heard the prosecution's legal arguments that the six individuals should be convicted of the more aggravated form of CBT as agents instead of plain CBT.

At that hearing, church founder Kong Hee, 52; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 44; former finance manager Serina Wee, 40; former finance committee member John Lam, 49; and former finance manager Sharon Tan, 41, made their first public appearance since starting their respective jail terms on April 21.

The six, initially given jail terms of between 21 months and eight years on the more serious charge, had their sentences reduced to between seven months and 3½ years' jail by the High Court in April 7.

In Chew's latest filing, he argues that the CHC case set a precedent because it was the first time the courts have pronounced that a person can be convicted for misappropriation for the wrong use of funds for the purpose of the owner, in this case, the church.

Chew argues that during the period of the offences between 2007 to 2009 - before the precedent - he would have held the "legitimate expectation", based on existing law, that he was not running afoul of the law since the funds were being used for the church's benefit.

"In the absence of any past judicial interpretation or pronouncement that bears similarity to that laid down by the courts in the present case, the applicant had no reasonable cause to have known or expect that his act would have constituted an offence of misappropriation," he said in written submissions seen by The Straits Times.

Chew argues that his conviction is therefore in breach of Article 11 of the Constitution, which states that "no person shall be punished for an act... which was not punishable by law when it was done".