Singaporean in church fraud case tries to flee on boat

SINGAPORE: A Singaporean man convicted over a high-profile fraud case at a megachurch was caught today trying to flee in a boat before he was due to start his sentence, police said.

In a case that gripped the city-state with a heady mix of religion, showbiz and fraud, six leaders from City Harvest Church were convicted in 2015 of pilfering tens of millions of dollars from the place of worship to promote the pop career of the pastor's wife.

Among them was investment manager Chew Eng Han, who was sentenced to three years and four months but had his imprisonment delayed by a series of appeals.

After losing his final challenge, the 57-year-old was allowed to remain out of prison on bail until after the Lunar New Year holiday, and was meant to start serving his sentence on Feb 22 in the latest bizarre twist to the case, police caught Chew around 8:45am (4.45pm GMT) in a small fishing boat off eastern Singapore allegedly attempting to flee to Malaysia.

He was with a second man who was piloting the craft.

"Preliminary investigations suggest that the duo were attempting to depart Singapore illegally," said a police statement.

The men were carrying S$5,000 (RM14,913) in cash, three mobile phones and fishing gear. A source close to the investigation told AFP that when approached, the pair claimed they were going fishing.

They will be charged in court tomorrow and are accused of attempting to leave Singapore unlawfully, an offence that carries a maximum six-month jail term and fine of S$2,000.

The church leaders were convicted of using S$24 million from a church building fund to help advance the music career of the pastor's wife Ho, and were also found guilty of misappropriating huge sums as they scrambled to cover their tracks.

Pastor Kong Hee was initially sentenced to eight years but his term was cut to three and half years in 2017 by the High Court on a technicality, sparking a storm of criticism.

An appeal court this month upheld the decision to reduce his sentence. – AFP