Singapore seeks to amend law after ‘too low’ megachurch fraud sentences

UNTV News   •   February 5, 2018   •   3168

FILE PHOTO: Worshippers attend a church service at the City Harvest Church in Singapore March 1, 2014. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s government is seeking to amend a law that led to shortened sentences for church leaders convicted of misusing millions of dollars, in a case that has gripped the city-state where there is little tolerance for corruption.

This follows a decision last week by a Singapore court to reject a prosecution appeal to reinstate longer jail sentences for the church leaders, after the High Court reduced their sentences in April 2017.

The government believes the sentences are “too low” for those including City Harvest Church’s co-founder Kong Hee, convicted of using funds to support his wife’s pop-singing career, Minister for Law Kasiviswanathan Shanmugam said.

Kong, 53, was originally sentenced to eight years in jail in October 2015 for criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts. The High Court later reduced that sentence to three-and-a-half years.

“It is now up to parliament to amend the law, and that we should do soon,” Shanmugam said in parliament on Monday.

Singapore’s governing People’s Action Party has a large majority in parliament.

Shanmugam said the judgment shows there is a “lacuna” or gap in the law around punishment for senior officers charged with criminal breach of trust.

”The government’s policy is clear … If you abuse that trust you should be more culpable, and you should be liable for more severe punishments compared to a normal employee.

“For the last 40 years the law, as applied by the courts, reflected this principle. In April last year, the position changed.”

The mix of money, faith and scandal in the City Harvest Church case is unique in Singapore, and gained much public interest during a legal battle that spanned nearly five years.

Local media said it was the largest amount of charity funds ever misappropriated in Singapore, and the country’s most expensive criminal trial.

While megachurches originated in the United States, some of the largest are in Asia, where packaging the traditional biblical message into a more dynamic format of pop music, lively services and social media has lured a new generation of followers and turned the churches into major enterprises.

Reporting by John Geddie; Editing by Himani Sarkar

2 South Korean nationals barred from entering PHL

Robie de Guzman   •   August 19, 2020

File photo of the Mactan, Cebu Airport

MANILA, Philippines – Two South Korean nationals were prohibited from entering the country after presenting fraudulent documents at the Mactan-Cebu International Airport, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said Wednesday.

The two foreigners reportedly presented bogus copies of certificates of their alleged marriage to Filipinos.

Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente identified the foreigners as Shin Bumsik and Woo Jungje.

The bureau said the two stopped at the airport last August 17 after arriving via Aseana Airlines flight from Seoul.

Both passengers, who had tourist visas, presented scanned copies of marriage certificates purportedly showing they are married to Filipinas.

This reportedly aroused the suspicion of the immigration officers on duty who decided to refer the passengers to their supervisors for secondary inspection.

Immigration officers later found that Shin Bumsik was only 20 years old and could not have married a Filipina as he had never traveled to the Philippines before.

Woo Jungje, on the other hand, was caught lying as it was discovered that he was out of the country at the time of his supposed marriage last October 2019.

Morente said the two foreigners have already been included in the immigration blacklist of undesirable aliens.

“Don’t trick our officers by presenting bogus marriage certificates because that will not work. You will be turned back to where you came from and can no longer return to our country,” he said.

The BI Chief stressed that possession of an entry visa does not guarantee a foreigner’s entry into the country because immigration officers have the lawful mandate and discretion to assess arriving foreigners, inquire about the purpose of their trip, and examine the documents that they presented.

“If you lie and resort to fraud and misrepresentation, you are unfit to be given the privilege to enter our country. You will be excluded and booked on the first available flight back to your port of origin,” Morente said.

3 Korean fugitives caught in Philippines – BI

Robie de Guzman   •   February 7, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – Three Korean nationals who are wanted for various crimes in their country have been arrested, the Bureau of Immigration (BI) said Friday.

In a statement, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said the foreigners were arrested in three separate operations recently conducted in Pampanga, Laguna and Metro Manila by the bureau’s fugitive search unit (FSU).

Morente said two of the Koreans were arrested for fraud while the other one is accused of instigating the murder of a fellow Korean.

One of the apprehended Koreans was identified as 55-year-old Kwon Houkrae who was arrested in Angeles City, Pampanga last Jan. 23.

Authorities alleged that in September 2015, Kwon hired a group of hitmen to murder a compatriot as a result of which she was issued an arrest warrant by a Korean court.

Meanwhile, Park Iksu, 44, was arrested on the same day by a separate team of FSU operatives in Sta. Rosa City, Laguna.

Park is subject of a warrant issued by a district court in Busan, Korea where he was charged with fraud for swindling a fellow Korean of 22 million yen or US$18,400 in a business transaction.

On Jan. 27, FSU operatives arrested 49-year-old Bak Hyeon Gi inside his hotel room in Malate, Manila.

Bak is also wanted for fraud for allegedly receiving P3 million from a fellow Korean in return for facilitating the issuance of a court restraining order in his favor.

The suspect, who allegedly claimed he has strong connections, failed to deliver on his promise after getting the money from the victims.

The BI said all three Koreans are detained at the BI detention facility in Camp Bagong Diwa, Taguig while awaiting deportation.

BI to deport 4 foreign nationals wanted for fraud

Robie de Guzman   •   January 14, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Immigration (BI) on Tuesday said it is deporting four foreigners who are all wanted for fraud by authorities in their respective countries.

In a statement, Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente said these individuals, three Chinese nationals and one Korean, were arrested in separate operations launched in the cities of Manila and Pasay by operatives from the bureau’s fugitive search unit (FSU).

The three Chinese nationals were identified as Lin Wengao, 41; Zhang Sen, 38; and Zhang Gaosheng, 39.

The BI said the trio was arrested by virtue of warrants of arrest issued by the Chinese government for alleged involvement in economic crimes.

Citing information from the Chinese embassy in Manila, Morente said the three Chinese nationals conspired to forge a seal of a hospital in China as a result of which they managed to defraud their victims of more than 10 million RMB or nearly US$1.5 million.

Investigation revealed that the three aliens arrived separately in the country last year as tourists.

All of them are undocumented aliens as their passports were already canceled by the Chinese government, he added.

Meanwhile, Morente also bared the arrest of Korean national Woo Yong Wook, 45, who is also wanted for fraud by authorities in Seoul.

FSU agents arrested Woo on Friday, January 10 in Malate, Manila pursuant to a warrant of deportation issued against him by the BI board of commissioners.

Woo was ordered deported after the Korean authorities informed the BI that he is wanted for allegedly masterminding a fraudulent investment scheme wherein the victims lost more than a billion Won.

“We will deport them immediately and they will be included in our blacklist to make sure that they won’t return to the Philippines,” Morente said.

BI FSU chief Bobby Raquepo said that the four were the first batch of fugitives to be arrested in 2020.

In 2019, the BI said it arrested more than 400 alien fugitives hiding in the country.

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