Singapore megachurch pastor escapes harsher jail term in fraud case

A megachurch pastor in Singapore who was convicted in a $20 million church fraud has dodged a harsher jail term after a court recently decided not to carry out his original sentence.

(REUTERS / Edgar Su)City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee (R) and his wife Sun Ho, also known as Ho Yeow Sun, at the State Courts in Singapore October 21, 2015.

City Harvest Church leader Pastor Kong Hee was originally given a sentence of eight years in 2015 for misusing almost $20 million of the church's funds for his wife Sun Ho's pop music career, while five other church leaders were handed varying jail terms. On Thursday, Feb.1, the Court of Appeal denied state prosecutors' call to reinstate the original sentences which were earlier reduced on a technicality, The Daily Mail detailed.

Pastor Kong will continue serving his jail term of three-and-a-half years. One church leader has already concluded serving her seven-month term, and another one is set to begin with his prison sentence on Feb. 22.

Ho, on the other hand, had not been included in the church fraud case.

Meanwhile, the court's recent decision to push through with the reduced sentences of the megachurch leaders was frowned upon by Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam. The Attorney-General's Chambers also issued a statement that said it would take a closer look at the Penal Code to make sure that people in positions of trust are punished appropriately if they breach their subordinates' trust, The Malay Mail Online reported.

"We will have to consider, as a matter of policy, what other steps to take because we cannot relax our stand on (corruption)," said Shanmugam.

Deputy Attorney-General Hri Kumar Nair had earlier stated that the High Court's ruling in the church fraud case "gives rise to a conflict of judicial authority in Singapore." He said it goes against a long-standing principle of handing the harshest punishments to leaders of organizations who breach the public's trust.

The prosecution also pointed out that there were 16 cases in the last four decades which saw directors convicted for similar offenses.