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Ex-City Harvest Church leader Chew Eng Han begins jail term

[SINGAPORE] Former City Harvest Church leader Chew Eng Han began his sentence of three years and four months on Thursday for his role in the misuse of millions in church funds.

No fresh charge was tendered against him when he appeared in court with boatman Tan Poh Teck, 53, who faces an amended charge and a fresh charge.

Chew, 57, was originally scheduled to begin his sentence for criminal breach of trust last Thursday but was nabbed at sea the day before for allegedly trying to flee to Malaysia on a motorised boat.

He is accused of leaving Singapore unlawfully at Pulau Ubin Jetty - which is not an authorised place of embarkation, departing place or point of departure - by boarding the motorised boat which was about to leave Singapore for Malaysia at 8.47am on Feb 21.

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The next mention of Chew's case is on March 29. He is represented by Mr Jonathan Phipps from YS Chung Law Corporation.

Five other City Harvest Church leaders - including founder-pastor Kong Hee - who were also convicted of misusing church funds, began serving their sentences last April. But Chew, who was out on S$1 million bail, had secured multiple deferments.

After his jail term - which was reduced from six years by the High Court in April last year - was upheld by the Court of Appeal on Feb 1, Chew was allowed to defer his sentence until after Chinese New Year.

Tan's amended charge says that he abetted the ex-City Harvest Church fund manager to leave Singapore by conveying him on the boat to the north-east part of Pulau Ubin where Chew would board another boat which would leave for Malaysia.

He is accused in the fresh charge of abetting one Shanker Maghalingam to leave Singapore on the motorised boat at sea off Changi, which is not an authorised place of embarkation, to Malaysia at about 8.40am on Dec 17 last year.

Tan's lawyer Tan Hee Joek, from Tan See Swan & Co, told the court that he has written to the prosecution and the police to ask for access, to take instructions and understand how Tan is doing.

The prosecution asked that Tan be remanded for another week to complete investigations. Tan's case will be mentioned on March 7.

The maximum punishment for leaving the country unlawfully is a S$2,000 fine and six months' jail.

If convicted of abetting in the offence, Tan can be jailed for up to two years and fined up to S$6,000 on each charge.

Chew and Tan claimed they were fishing. But based on earlier information received, the police established that the duo were trying to leave Singapore illegally for Malaysia.

If found guilty of this offence, Chew can face a jail term of up to six months and a S$2,000 fine.