When Chew Eng Han told the press that he has run out of options for his appeal, I empathised and believed him.
Apparently, it is the end of the road for him. At some point, he has to resign to his fate as he had exhausted all avenues of appeal and review, that is, short of petitioning to the President for a pardon equivalent to the one usually asked for by a convict facing the gallows.
To rub salt into the wound, this week, on Thursday, he got a earful from the Apex Court of three senior judges. Not only was his application to challenge his conviction and sentence applied out of time, it was also "plainly abusive" and utterly lacking in merit – so said the judges.
They were unanimous on the fact that the "offences of criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts were satisfied". They also endorsed the decision of the court below on their finding that the actus reus of misappropriation and the mens rea of dishonesty have all been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
In other words, all the accused in the Apex Court’s opinion had "acted with dishonest intention to cause wrongful loss to the church even though they were not motivated by personal gain."
However, Eng Han could not reconcile himself to the verdict and sentence. He said, “I’m just not happy. I am not happy with the reasons offered by the judges.”
The main thrust of his appeal is that he did it all for the church, and he had gained nothing from it. Not even a single cent.
In his appeal, he highlighted this point: "a new precedent has been judicially pronounced, whereby a person can be convicted for misappropriation...even where that person has not used property for himself or a third party, and in spite of him having applied the property for the owner's (unauthorised) use."
And by owner, he meant the church. More specifically, he meant the church leadership, or his former spiritual mentor, Kong Hee. The corollary of his point is this: Why should the sins of the leadership be passed down to his faithful members, who had profited nothing from it and only wanted nothing but to see the church prosper as a whole?
This is the part that Eng Han could not let go, and understandably so. He just could not accept that his actions, motivated by an enduring sense of piety, loyalty and sincerity to the calling of the church leadership, could have been deemed as an act of criminal misappropriation - or worse, punishable by the law with imprisonment. How could something so right then end up so wrong now?
In fact, Eng Han once said that he had attended two of Sun's concerts and believed "100 per cent" in the crossover’s cultural mandate. "The logic is Sun becomes a megastar, (holds more) concerts ... then she can evangelise,” he told Channel News Asia last year.
To him, the end goal of evangelism just had to justify the means, however extravagant, because how do you ever put a monetary price on a lost soul returning to the Lord’s flock?
From a very vulnerable human standpoint, Eng Han had every emotional reason to feel aggrieved, betrayed and wronged for he had done all that was asked of him all that time believing wholeheartedly that the leadership was God-led, the crossover project was God's will and the money pouring in was God-sent.
But the reality was far removed from what Eng Han had once believed about his ex-church being the "ultimate church", and by extension of that logic, the leadership of that ultimate church was beyond reproach and also unquestionable.
In fact, while the other accused had surrendered themselves, Eng Han is the only one left standing fighting alone for his innocence because he did it all for the church and his conscience is clear. If anything, for him, it was an act of personal sacrifice and definitely not a criminal enterprise he was charged and guilty of - not even by a long shot.
Altogether, he had given nearly a million dollars of his own money to the church and the crossover project. He in fact joined the thousands of members, former and existing, who had given of their time, effort and money unquestionably to the church leaders, believing at that time that it was the right thing to do. They were so sure it was what God had commanded.
However, when asked by Justice Chan last year whether he was brainwashed, Eng Han admitted he was. He further admitted that he was once sold to the idea pitched by Kong Hee that Sun Ho would be more popular than Jay Chou, S.H.E. and even the late Whitney Houston.
At that time, he thought to himself, “If she was touted to be the next Whitney Houston, how would she not be a profitable commercial vehicle for us?”
Alas, neither being brainwashed, sacrificing for the church leadership nor doing it not for personal gain was enough to exculpate Eng Han from the convicted intention to use unauthorised building funds to transform Sun Ho into an international superstar, evangelism notwithstanding.
In other words, his motive (on the “why” he did it, that is, purely for the church) did not in the court’s view absolve him from his intentional act (on the “how” it was done, that is, the illegal modus operandi of the act involving proven misappropriation and falsification). So, one’s end (or goal) may be noble, but his means (or methods) are deemed by the penal code criminal. In his case, the gap between motive (purpose) and intent (element of the offence) could not have been more different.
And after all is said and done, even Eng Han would have to admit that his faith and loyalty had sadly fallen squarely on man’s leadership, not God’s. This is something we all have to take note of because we are all equally vulnerable.
For the logic of the crossover may have appeared obvious to Eng Han and many at that time, that is, the elevation of one commercial brand to bring all to Christ. But it was still a man-funded elevation banking on the misled hope that such heavily invested worldly attraction would set the platform for a mass spiritual conversion thereafter. The strange logic is to make one popular so as to make Jesus even more popular - yet, such matching popularity runs the risk of competing allegiance and misattribution.
And this is evident in an email in January 2005 written by Kong Hee concerning his wife: “I need our members to be super proud of her and realise that we do have a singing diva in our midst”.
Alas, I do not deny that at one time, his wife was indeed a singing diva with fans all over Asia. Her influence then was unassailable, and her words from any pulpit would have been deeply influential. That was the high-water mark of her so-called elevated spiritual platform. I am sure then that Kong Hee got his wish - his church was "super proud" of his wife.
But sadly, that was never enough...
But sadly, that was never enough...
What started off in the spirit often ends up in the flesh and this was where all noble goals went awry with China Wine. The latter was the beginning of the inebriated fall.
The sad drunken tale of this spirited ambition has been repeated ad infinitum in the history of man's rise and fall. For Jesus needed neither a megastar nor singing diva to bring him to the fore - he just needed an empty vessel with a humble and willing heart.
As such, the pastoral couple would not be the first to start off on the narrow way, which somehow unwittingly broadens out of control under their leadership, and neither will they be the last.
At this point, we are all reminded that the way of grief takes one to Calvary; it is the road of self-sacrifice. But the way of man draws him to his own revelry; it is a road of self-elevation.
And now that the dust has nearly settled in this unwieldy saga, it is hoped that we as Christians will be able to see clearer, deeper and further into what is written in Proverbs 19: 21: "Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."
And what ultimately prevailed in the brief existence of the crossover is the call for the redemption of humanity, regardless of whether you are a layperson or a megachurch pastor.
For salvation still belongs to the Lord, and the only crossover that truly matters for all time is still the crossover to Calvary. Cheerz.