Sunday, 18 February 2018

City Harvest and the CBT gap.

There is something surely unprecedented about the news two weeks ago. 

It is like the society of ours has been pried open and every nook and cranny of it is being examined and defended. 

It comes in three, and they shall form my lessons here. 

First, it was reported that our law minister "stressed he was aware that many have expressed their dissatisfaction with the outcome of the (City Harvest) case. Netizens have said that the judges let off the rich, or that some judges were lenient because they were Christians." 

That's front page news. That's something you don't read everyday in Singapore. 

Ironically, this statement comes on the heels of the suspended sentence of the scion of Samsung and heir, Lee Jae Yong, 49. 

He was walking as a free man in the street after leaving Seoul Detention Centre. 

Lee was convicted for bribery and embezzlement and upon appeal, had his sentence halved to 2.5 years. 

The judges then shocked the nation by suspending it for 4 years. This means that if he commits any offence during the 4 years, he will be hauled back to Court to be reassessed and serve time. In the meantime, he is freed.

Standing in the frigid February air, he apologised for (as he said) "not showing my best side." 

Well, he may not have shown his best side, but the judiciary had definitely extended him their best side (or deal).

A National Assembly member Park Yong Jin from Mr Moon's party said: "It's truly disappointing. We confirmed once again that Samsung is above the law and the court."

Of course, let me set the record straight that what happened to Lee will not happen here with our judiciary. 

I do not see any parallel here because it took 150 pages of in-depth judgment written to great judicial flourish and exactitude to explain to all and sundry why the law shortfell, why no one took notice, why the gap has to be filled, and why injustice had and will continue if this is not done very soon. 

40 years of misapprehension and more than 16 cases (not counting many other unreported cases) being wrongly interpreted to the detriment of prison time served and potentially discriminate common employees and letting off to some extent the key-decision makers in companies and charities are just too much of a gap or lacuna for the society of right-thinking populace to bear. 

Second, Insight Editor Elgin Toh was reporting from Parliament and he observed that "the Government believes that the sentences are too low (for the City Harvest accused)."

It was nevertheless a quiet and calm "tai-Chi" session whereby the CA "agreed that there was no good policy reason to ignore the "heightened culpability" of directors (as compared to clerks and employees)."" 

Yet, the justices were "obliged to apply the law as they understood it." 

Bottom line: It is Parliament's problem, and it is just too bad that after 40 years, the case that woke the Courts to this peculiar oversight of Section 409 fell on no other cases (of much less ostentatiousness) than the City Harvest leaders. 

If it had been a lesser known case, not involving religion or any hint of religion, and not concerning millions of dollars where one of the accused happens to be living in a million-dollar mansion, the public outcry would have been so much less intense. 

Even Parliament added their voices of discontent when Elgin noted that "as the debate drew to a close, it was clear what was most curious about the case: Almost everyone thought the church leaders should be judged under heavier sentence limits - but they were not."

Finally, and my third lesson is an extract of a Q&A session in Parliament between MP Yee Chia Hsing and Mr Shanmugam. Here is what transpired as reported.

"MR YEE CHIA HSING (Chua Chu Kang GRC) noted that CHC founder Kong Hee's wife Ho Yeow Sun was a "key beneficiary" but had not been charged. He asked if penalties will be introduced such that the beneficiary of proceeds from a CBT case can also be charged.

Mr Shanmugam noted that a beneficiary who receives proceeds without the appropriate knowledge does not automatically become a criminal. "Supposing the person took the money and donated it to a charity, another charity. Does the recipient commit a criminal offence? I think we need to be careful," he said.""

I am a little nonplussed by the analogy that Shanmugam gave in Parliament. I know ultimately it is about a provable criminal intent with knowledge of the coverup activity. 

As such, it has little to do with that a person taking money from one charity and hands it over to another charity per se. But it has everything to do with a criminal intent and knowledge. Shanmugam was at least right on the first part. 

But the analogy misses the point of Sun Ho's central role in the entire legal fiasco that lasted for nearly a decade. 

Her husband was not just diverting building funds from CHC to give to another charity. He was practically handing millions over to fund the music career of his wife, allegedly chosen for a sacred evangelistic purpose. The conflict of interests is jarring to say the least. 

And Sun Ho was no charity, she was the brainchild of the entire misappropriation exercise that dragged the name of Christianity not only through unbeaten dark tracks involving a stretch of interpretation of what counts for evangelism and what doesn't, but she was, in the words of Justice Chan, literally synonymous with the Crossover project.

Not just a direct beneficiary, not just a founding pastor, not just his matrimonial partner, not just the original recipient of the Crossover vision, not just Crossover's frontman, not just the main and sole protagonist of those my-kids-will-turn-away-saying-shame-shame music videos, and not just the joint decider of how the funds were to be used to promote her career around the world (as her husband once paid her the highest tribute by addressing her as the "sun" in his life), Sun Ho appears to have also been kept in the loop of things as it progressed along the way before the law caught up with the accused persons. 

And this immediately reminded me of a Blackberry discussion between the leaders of CHC about a special audit in April 2010:- 

"Sun, (as in Sun Ho) one of the main reasons why I proposed the Special Audit is to buy us time to fill up the hole. We don't want all the issue to grow to the extend (sic) that the authorities step in BEFORE we fill up the hole. By appointing our auditors, it will be easier to talk and get things done. If the report turns out to be lacking in some areas, we will improve and change. They can help us. That's why to me, it is important to let the relevant authorities know that we initiate a special audit. They will at least not do anything till the report comes out. By then, the hole is filled."

So, if you separate and isolate all those factors I've listed for consideration, then one can safely say that Sun Ho was clearly keeping an arm's-length distance from the hole the accused persons were trying desperately to fill. 

But if you piece all those factors together, and scrutinise them in its proper context over the long period of criminal coverup, it boggles my mind for Sun Ho to stand unadulterated before the ordination crowd of thousands to lead CHC 2.0 in Nov 2015, and conveniently disclaim all responsibility and accountability with the resounding tagline: "It wasn't me". 

Let's set the record straight here. 

Sun Ho was not charged, and that was the Prosecutorial discretion enshrined in the legislature and I fully respect, submit and understand that.

Sun Ho was not charged, and by writing this, I am not advocating for that, at least not in this lifetime. That "Changi" ship has sailed. 

Nevertheless, the saga has costs too much, and the die has been cast last Thursday at the Apex Court. So, let's move on. 

But what I would expect at the very minimum from a leader is to take responsibility by taking up the leadership mantle, giving an account to the church (whether they want it or not), and apologising (if not for her direct part in it) for her "indirect" role because you can't spell Crossover without Sun Ho. 

Alas, maybe there is no use flogging a dead horse (pun unintended). 

I guess the hole will never be filled because not one leader at the current CHC 2.0 leadership has the moral courage to face the people, tell them what really went wrong, and then together, in one body of Christ, admit to their shortcomings, their failure, their oversight. 

Paradoxically, it is a church that is so eager to capture the market of lost souls, amass them in by the truckloads, hype them up with good music and bedazzling sermons from the most awe-inducing stage, and do charity by giving tirelessly.

However, when it comes to confronting oneself, allowing God's spirit to search their hearts for what had transpired in the Crossover, surrendering one's leadership flaws at the altar of true repentance, and holding oneself as the leader whom the people trust to the highest of accountability, there is a hole that many rather sheepishly walk on by - blissfully pretending that if you see, hear or speak no evil, the hole will fill itself up...eventually. Cheerz.

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