My conclusions from the City Harvest verdict:
- Sentences were reduced, basically due to a loophole in the law. Those making decisions about a charity’s money are not considered employees or professional agents.
- Embezzling / misappropriating money from a charity merits a lesser punishment compared to embezzling money from a commercial business.
- Directors receive a lower maximum sentence compared to regular employees.
- This loophole has been in existence for a very long time, since the law is considered “outdated”. However, nobody noticed this problem until the appeal went through.
- “Not for personal gain” was a factor, since the highest sentence was still less than the maximum allowed. However “lack of remorse” was not mentioned.
Given the highest sentence of 3 years 6 months (Kong Hee) and approximately $23 million embezzled (taking the lower figure of money actually misspent), it works out to $500 000 per month of prison. That’s more than what most people make in a year. “Kong Hee Fatt Choy” indeed! Even better if you are Sun Ho, you directly benefit while other people go to jail for advancing your career.
Charitable donations are really a goldmine for the unscrupulous, because most people don’t ask too many questions. Perhaps asking questions doesn’t fit the spirit of generous giving and makes you look heartless, stingy or nitpicky.
Giving requires trust, and donors are reluctant to contradict that trust with too many doubts. That was precisely what happened in the City Harvest case. Too much trust, too little questioning and the few doubters were quickly silenced.
But it is precisely the charitable sector that needs the greatest scrutiny. Every dollar misspent is a dollar that does not go towards helping people.
Donations are given, not earned. Commercial businesses need to provide a product or service to sell for money, compete in the marketplace and pay taxes. A charity just has to claim to be helping people and money will just roll in (https://mothership.sg/2016/10/this-is-a-legal-way-to-make-money-in-spore-so-good-even-police-cant-do-anything/). It is this easy money that merits the strictest supervision.
[Postscript 07 Feb 2018] I have seen some comments that the church supported the Crossover Project therefore the use of building fund money was not a breach of trust. From the actions of the Kongvicts, that is NOT the case. They were not transparent at all! It was never clearly stated to the church members that building fund (note the name) was turning into a “Sun Ho fund”. Specific permission to use the building fund for the Crossover was not asked. The actual amount transferred to Crossover was never revealed to the church members. Instead, there were constant cover-ups. If the church was so supportive, why the secrecy? A general expression of support is not carte-blanche to do whatever you want.