CHC pastor Tan Ye Peng took the stand with the start of his examination-in-chief today by senior counsel N Sreenivasan.
Tan Ye Peng, deputy senior pastor of City Harvest Church, took the stand today as the fifth defense witness in the City Harvest trial. Tan is also the pastor in charge of the Chinese Church in CHC.
The day began on a sombre note, given the passing on of Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first prime minister and founding father. One minute of silence was observed before court commenced.
In a move different from his fellow defense counsels, Tan’s lawyer, senior counsel N Sreenivasan opened with an hour-long summation of the case, so far, as he saw it. He highlighted several points against the prosecution’s case: first, he noted that most of the prosecution’s witnesses did not support the prosecution’s case. Sreenivasan noted that the prosecutors had stated during the cross-examination of the defendants, that they did not accept the evidence of a few of their own witnesses, including Wahju Hanafi. The prosecution is really making their case not because of, but in spite of, the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses, said the senior counsel.
Sreenivasan also noted that the prosecutors have been adding new “slants” which they never made during their own case the prosecution was presenting their case. He gave the example of the prosecution’s recent allegation during Chew Eng Han’s time on the stand that the defendants were out to deceive their own board.
The matter of the First Incident Report was reiterated today in court as well. Sreenivasan explained that the FIR was important because his client faces three charges of criminal breach of trust. CBT is generally a crime about the loss of property of a victim, but in this case, said Sreenivasan, none of the prosecution witnesses from the church had, to date, alleged that the church has been cheated.
Sreenivasan also pointed out that Sun Ho’s music career was synonymous with the Crossover Project, which the prosecution admits is the church’s objective. Since the funds were used for this mission of the church and no complaint had been made, this was no victim and therefore the CBT charges should not hold. The senior counsel suggested that those charges be dropped.
THE NATURE OF ACCUSED’S RELATIONSHIP WITH AUDITOR FOONG DAW CHING
As Sreenivasan began his cross-examination of his client, the court heard how Tan started attending CHC at the age of 16 and became a pastor after he graduated from the church’s Bible school, the same time he graduated from the National University of Singapore.
He wore two hats in the Crossover Project: one as a liaison with the church pastors across Asia that CHC was working with to put up gospel concerts, and the other as liaison with Ho’s artiste manager in Taiwan for the publicity of her secular albums.
Among other things, Tan testified that he knew Foong Daw Ching, the then-managing partner of audit firm Teo Foong Wong (later, Baker Tilly), to be a highly respected elder of a church. His approach to Foong had always been one of honor and respect because he recalled he met the auditor when he was 31, and Foong had been practising as an audit professional for 31 years by then.
Echoing his fellow defendants, Tan said that Foong had consistently portrayed himself to be the number one man in the firm. To Tan, there was no distinction between managing partner and executive partner: he only knew that that Foong was the auditor who oversaw all CHC’s accounts. Starting 2003, after the Roland Poon saga, the team was in constant communication with Foong, seeking advice from him even after the investigations into the church had begun in 2010.
The court heard that Foong had not asked the defendants to seek the advice of someone else in his firm when they approached him for advice, nor had the other auditors told the defendants to stay away from Foong. When Sreenivasan pointed out to Tan that Foong had testified on the stand that he had told the City Harvest team to look for the engagement partner instead of him, Tan told the court that he was “bewildered”, “shocked” and “heart-broken” to hear Foong say that in court because this had not been the case.
The defense lawyer then brought Tan through a series of emails to establish what had been told to Foong since the inception of the Crossover Project. Among the things Tan and his team had told Foong about the Crossover Project included how the church was using it as a way to reach out to the young people; how Xtron was set up to manage Ho; that several people asked for a refund of their building fund donation and gave it to the Crossover Project; and later, when the Crossover migrated to the US, that Xtron was issuing bonds to CHC and the proceeds would go to fund the Crossover Project.
THE “SENSITIVE” RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN CHC AND XTRON
Tan said today in court that CHC and Xtron were “closely associated but legally separate.”
He said that Xtron played an important role, undertaking projects that would not have been appropriate for the church to get involved in, namely making inroads into the entertainment industry and making bids for commercial property.
It was a sensitive relationship, one that auditor Foong had been aware of, understood and consulted on since the early 2000s, in the wake of the Roland Poon saga, stated Tan.
In June 2009, the team had some disagreements with then-engagement partner Sim Guan Seng’s points in a draft of the annual Xtron audit report. This report made reference to links with CHC and Sim has brought up disclosure. Given Foong’s long history with CHC and understanding of the sensitivities of disclosure, Tan had advised Xtron accountant Serina Wee to hold a meeting with Foong alone, without Sim, because Foong knew the background of Xtron’s origins; Sim did not.
Sreenivasan noted that this email exchange between Tan and Wee has been so far characterised by the prosecution as an attempt to conceal important details about the church’s investments from Sim.
Giving his side of the story, Tan explained in court today that he had so advised Wee in order to find out from Foong the best way to convey the sensitivity of the CHC-Xtron relationship to Sim, who had concerns about the disclosure of the links between the two entities. At no point did he tell Wee to hide information from Sim, said Tan. Eventually, the court heard, Foong had advised Wee to just explain things plainly to Sim.
The prosecution has also alleged that the budgets between CHC and Xtron were “inexplicably intertwined;” that the accused parties were able to unilaterally and artificially alter the budgets of both entities.
Asked by his counsel to explain this, Tan replied that CHC’s money was its own, just as Xtron’s money was its own; whenever the church increased its retainer fees to Xtron, it was in tandem with the audiovisual services extended to CHC.
SC Sreenivasan will continue his examination-in-chief of Tan Ye Peng tomorrow at 10am.
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