Singapore to make jumping bail a crime

SINGAPORE: Singapore will criminalise skipping bail following the attempted escape of a man convicted in a high-profile fraud case at a megachurch, a senior government official said Thursday.

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 tried to flee Singapore on a motorised fishing boat on Wednesday, a day before he was due to start his sentence of three years and four months.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam told reporters that a bill will be tabled in parliament next week, according to national broadcaster Channel NewsAsia.

"It will come as a surprise to many that jumping bail is not in itself an offence," he said, adding that the changes were not in response to Chew's attempted escape but part of a wider law review.

Chew had been sentenced in 2015 but his imprisonment had been delayed by a series of appeals.

He was out on Sg$1 million (US$760,000) bail and was to start his sentence on Feb 22 after the Lunar New Year holiday.

But in a bizarre twist, he was caught by police in a small fishing boat off eastern Singapore allegedly trying to flee to Malaysia.

He was charged on Thursday with unlawfully attempting to leave the country, an offence that carries a maximum six-month jail term and a fine of Sg$2,000.

The church leaders were convicted of using Sg$24 million from a church building fund to help advance the music career of the pastor's wife Ho.

They 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

Sg$1 = RM2.96