SINGAPORE: Singapore prosecutors are seeking a review of a court ruling which sparked a public outcry by reducing the jail term of a showbiz pastor who misused millions in church funds to promote his wife’s music career.
The case, which involved raunchy music videos featuring celebrities like rapper Wyclef Jean alongside the wife of City Harvest Church’s leader Kong Hee, originally saw the senior pastor given an eight-year jail term.
But the High Court on Friday halved the 52-year-old’s 2015 sentence for misusing around SG$50 million (US$35.6 million) of congressional money in the failed attempt to turn his wife Sun Ho, also a pastor, into a global pop star.
“The prosecution intends to request that the Court of Appeal exercises its powers… to reinstate the appellants’ original convictions,” the city’s Attorney-General’s Chambers said.
Kong and five other church leaders had their sentences reduced on a technicality, with the 52-year-old senior pastor’s jail term dropping from eight years to three and a half years.
The reduced sentences triggered a storm of criticism, with over 4,000 people commenting on the issue on the Facebook page of local broadsheet The Straits Times.
“What is wrong with our judicial system… that white-collar criminals get major discounts off jail time?” wrote Facebook user Zhengquen Qin, who tagged the country’s Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam in his comment.
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Shanmugam said the government believed the sentence reduction could have “serious implications” for other corruption cases.
The high-profile case has been described by prosecutors as the largest misappropriation of charity funds in the city-state’s legal history.
Tiny Singapore is one of the world’s most affluent nations and known for its tough stance on corruption.
The six church leaders were originally convicted of fraud for diverting SG$24 million from the church building fund to help Ho, a Mandarin pop singer, break into the global English-language market.
They were also found guilty of misappropriating another SG$26 million to cover their tracks with a complex web of sham financial transactions.