Singapore to amend law after megachurch pastor escapes harsh prison term in fraud case

Singapore will reportedly take a closer look and revise some of its laws after a technicality allowed a megachurch pastor's prison term for fraud to be cut short, according to a senior official on Feb. 5.

(REUTERS / Edgar Su)A combination photo shows City Harvest Church's members (top L-R to bottom L-R), former finance manager Serina Wee, former fund manager Chew Eng Han, former finance manager Sharon Tan, founder Kong Hee, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng and former treasurer John Lam arriving at the State Courts in Singapore October 21, 2015, where a verdict is expected to be delivered for their trial of misappropriating S million (.5 million) of church funds and falsifying the church's accounts.

City Harvest Church pastor Kong Hee and five other leaders were handed jail sentences ranging from 21 months to eight years after being convicted in 2015 of spending millions to fund his wife's pop music career and to cover their tracks. However, the case drew public backlash after the High Court lessened their sentences due to a technicality, and the new ruling was recently upheld by an appeals court, the AFP detailed.

The defendants had claimed that they should never have been charged under a law pertaining to criminal breach of trust by public individuals in leadership positions. In the end, Pastor Kong's sentence was cut to three-and-a-half years under a different law governing ordinary members of the public.

According to Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, the sentences given to the megachurch leaders were "too low." He added that the law under which they were charged ought to be amended by parliament.

Meanwhile, the Attorney-General's Chambers vowed to work with the government on the appropriate amendments of the law in question. The office said it would make sure that company directors and other individuals in similar positions of trust will be given "to appropriate punishments if they commit criminal breach of trust," The Straits Times reported.

The judges who ruled on the case acknowledged that those in positions of responsibility ought to be given sentences that are congruent to their criminal act. However, Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang said that task was for the Parliament since the courts are not capable of conducting a "long overdue" and wide-ranging review of the law.

Four of the convicted megachurch leaders are currently serving their jail sentences. One of them has already finished serving her seven-month sentence, while another is set to start on Feb. 22.