For the benefits of my overseas readers, please allow me to plagiarize the following texts from our social media on the most controversial sentencing in the history of Singapore appeal case.
The High Court has reduced the sentences of all six former City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders on Friday (7 April) in favour of their appeal.
The hearing was attended by a three-judge panel - Judge of Appeal Chao Hick Tin and Justices Woo Bih Li and Chan Seng Onn.
The verdict was finally delivered after the long-running trial which started in 2013.
Here are what they wrote in full:
"K Shanmugam, what is wrong with our judicial system?
What message are you sending to the kids?
That white collar criminals get major discounts off jail time?
If this kind of injustice is allowed to persist in our systems, I really fear we will head down the path of seeing a trump like populist administration one day.
When the public loses complete faith in the "establishment".
Do you really want this?"
"I have lost faith in SG justice system. Rich people can get away with a crime committed."
"This is the saddest day in Singapore's Judiciary.
The Supreme Court Judge must be a Christian who sympathises with these corrupted crooks who call themselves Christians by giving all of them a reduced sentence. Such a disgrace to the Christian community. I bet you if LKY is still around, none of this nonsense would have existed!"
"Who wants to open a church? Count me in.
Let's call it holliest of holliest church ( HHC).
Scam people use people money pay lawyers then the got halves the sentence.
Meantime the wife can continue business as usual. 3.5 years later hubby comes out jail can still stand and enjoy.
Kill people death sentence but scam people gets only 3.5 year jail.
Great business model.
Pm me to set up HHC"
The appellate court's judgment in the CHC case is troubling.
First, the court said the accused were not acting "in the way of the business of agents", thereby reducing the aggravated CBT charge under s409 PC to the simple CBT charge under s406 PC.
It said that while the accused held important positions in the church, they were not acting as "a professional agent" who offers "his agency services to the community at large and from which he makes his living". The accused only had an "internal" relationship with the property they were entrusted with, which "stands in stark contrast" to an "external" relationship an agent would have with a customer.
Whilst it is technically tenable that the accused are not in the business of providing agency services (to other churches, at least), such a definition of "agent" is archaic and overly narrow.
An agent, simply put, is someone who acts on behalf of another. S409 PC does not add the prefix "professional" before "agent" and neither should we.
It is not true that all agency relationships have to be "external". Some agency relationships can be internal. For example, a federal agent is an employee of the government, but is still called as and acts in the capacity of an agent of the government; a representative of a company authorized to speak on its behalf could be an employee, but is still regarded in such context as an agent of the company.
Similarly, an executive committee of a church entrusted to handle the church's funds should also be regarded as an agent of the church in the handling of such funds.
Second, the court said there was no personal gain by the accused. Whilst it is factually correct that the accused did not personally pocket the money, a finding that this is a mitigating factor is again overly narrow.
The law of contracts used to state that third parties to a contract may not enforce the contract, since they provided no consideration for it. This has since evolved such that third parties may now enforce contracts that benefit them in some way.
This recognized the principle (and reality) that people sometimes do things not to benefit themselves but a third party. If so, people who defraud to benefit a third party (such as their friends, leaders, pastors, pastors' wives) should also be just as culpable as people who defraud to benefit themselves.
Most importantly, the court said the accused acted in what they "genuinely believed" to be the best interests of the church.
And that "their fault lies in adopting the wrong means".
In other words, the accused had good intentions and did what they did in the name of and for the glory of their religion. They had simply used the wrong methods.
As CHC supporters believe, the accused may have violated the laws of man, but they did not violate the laws of God. And that is what matters.
This is dangerous.
And it underscores a deeper, perennial problem with blinded religious extremism and devotion in society.
You may believe that God is supreme. But just because something is done by a person with the best of intentions in the name of God doesn't thereby make it right.
A religious zealot harming innocents via holy wars, suicide bomb attacks and passenger plane missiles also says he does it with a pure motive for his God. Why would you condemn the said zealot and his reasoning, but yet apply that same reasoning to excuse others who harm people by falsifying accounts, cheating and defrauding, also in the name of their God?
This is not some minor infraction of some technical or procedural law we are dealing with here. It's criminal. Once we start excusing or justifying what people do and the harm that society suffers in the name of faith, we start walking down this very dangerous, very slippery slope.
Support the accused as friends, people or fellow Christians who have gone astray if you must. But don't ever mitigate or excuse what they did because (they say) they did it in the name of God.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) is considering whether it is possible to take further steps in the City Harvest case and once they decide, they will announce next week, Law Minister K Shanmugam said on Saturday (Apr 8). "The matter is not over yet," he said.
Speaking to the media a day after the jail terms of six City Harvest Church leaders were more or less halved following an appeal, he said the AGC believed that the sentences given out earlier at a lower court should have been higher, including the eight-year sentence for church founder Kong Hee. The six had been found guilty of misappropriating S$50 million of church funds.
Mr Shanmugam said of the AGC: “They told the Government they were appealing and they gave their reasons – and why the sentence was low. And the Government believed that the original sentences were too low as well."
He noted that the High Court disagreed with the AGC and that two judges looking at the appeal said directors are not agents and therefore submitted a lower charge of Criminal Breach of Trust, that resulted in a reduced sentence.
“Now from the Government's point of view, this legal reasoning has serious implications, including corruption cases. We will have to consider, as a matter of policy, what other steps to take because we cannot relax our stand on that ... so I have asked AGC for advice whether we need to do anything," Mr Shanmugam said.
Acknowledging that there are differing views on the judgment, he said: “Judgments can be discussed, criticised. People have the right to have their views on the judgment. But I think we should be careful about abusing the judges personally, or suggesting improper ulterior motives for judgments … And from a Government’s point of view, if we disagree then we always consider what we do. If necessary, we will legislate through Parliament.”
He said he noted the High Court’s comments on the way the case was conducted by the prosecution and has asked the new Attorney-General and Deputy Attorneys-General to look into this.
“It may take time, but we have good people at the top, and they should be able to deal with it," he said.
"The matter is not over yet," he reiterated.
Today (10/4/2017), the prosecution in the City Harvest Church (CHC) case has filed a Criminal Reference to the Court of Appeal.
The statement added: "If the Court of Appeal answers the questions referred in accordance with the Prosecution's submissions, the Prosecution intends to request that the Court of Appeal exercises its powers under section 397(5) to reinstate the appellants' original convictions under section 409 of the Penal Code and make necessary and consequential orders in relation to the sentences given.