Former City Harvest Church leader Chew Eng Han had been ‘praying hard’ to prepare for jail before failed escape bid

Former City Harvest Church fund manager Chew Eng Han was arrested along with another man at 8.47am on board a motorised sampan.
The Straits Times

With three weeks to go to his prison term, former City Harvest Church (CHC) fund manager Chew Eng Han said earlier this month that he was going to “pray, pray, pray” to prepare himself for jail and that he was relieved the legal process was over.

In WhatsApp messages to The Straits Times on Feb 1, shortly after a court hearing that confirmed that he would have to serve three years and four months for criminal breach of trust, Chew, 57, insisted that he was innocent and that the truth would prevail one day.

Chew said if he truly felt he was guilty, “it would be easier to serve the sentence”.

He added that his family also found it “hard to accept” the ruling.

“If I did misappropriate money, I would see the sentence as a way of repenting,” said Chew, who has two children aged 17 and 27.

The former CHC leader was once a journalist with The Business Times and later ran his own investment management firm which went belly up.

He was first arrested in 2012 alongside CHC founder Kong Hee.

Chew was a loyal CHC follower who rose quickly through church ranks and, alongside his wife, donated “hundreds of thousands” to a trust fund that comprised personal donations or “love gifts” from about 40 of Kong’s closest supporters from 2007 to 2009.

When Kong’s wife, Ms Sun Ho, started raising eyebrows by dancing in skimpy clothing in her music videos, Chew said he still believed in the mission. “Deep inside, I was a bit uncomfortable but I didn’t express this because of my loyalty to Kong Hee and Sun.”

After his arrest, Chew left the church in 2013, which he said was partly because of how Kong and his wife had misled a small group of donors who had been supporting the couple’s livelihood.

In the lead-up to his failed escape bid, Chew had been posting on Facebook up until Feb 15 – mainly about the subject of injustice.

According to his Facebook profile, he studied at Curtin Bentley in Western Australia and Catholic Junior College.

In April last year, Chew’s request to be allowed to travel to Perth, Australia, to be with his wife and daughter, was rejected.

In a 2015 interview with The Straits Times, Chew said strangers would approach him to wish him well. One even bought him a meal at a Japanese restaurant.

Chew said at the time that he intended to write a book about his experience “once this is over”. “It will make a good movie,” he added.

Chew is the only one who has not started his jail term among the six former CHC leaders.

Last July, Chew’s first attempt to refer 58 questions to the apex court was rejected.

Last September, Chew made a second attempt to get the Court of Appeal to reopen his conviction. Judge of Appeal Andrew Phang said the application was “plainly abusive” and that Chew was essentially rehashing a point he had made in his previous application.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong said after the second attempt: “Having knocked on the back door once, and having been rightly rejected by Your Honours, he’s back at the door knocking again.”

DPP Ong argued that Chew was trying to delay his entry to prison by “drip-feeding” his arguments.

Former CHC members and friends were stunned by news of his escape attempt on Wednesday, a day before he was to start his jail term.

Former church executive member, Mr Jean-Jacques Lavigne, described Chew’s actions as “silly”. The businessman had testified as Chew’s witness during the trial. Mr Lavigne said he saw Chew in the past few days and he appeared “okay” and was “mentally preparing himself for jail”.

Another former church member, who gave her name as Ms P.L. said: “He probably feels justified doing this but this doesn’t take away from the fact that he is wrong.”

Referring to his accomplices, the 53-year-old added: “He has now implicated more people.”