Singapore will amend a law that allowed a megachurch pastor to escape a harsher prison term for fraud despite funnelling millions in church funds into his wife's music career, a senior official said Monday, following a public backlash.
In a case that fascinated Singapore with a heady mix of religion, showbiz and fraud, Kong Hee and five other church leaders were convicted in 2015 of spending Sg$24 million ($19.8 million) from a church building fund to promote his wife Ho's pop career.
But, in a country which prides itself on its tough stance on corruption, a High Court ruling that cut their sentences last year on a technicality -- upheld by an appeals court last week -- triggered widespread anger including personal insults against the judges.
Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said Monday the government believes the sentences handed to Kong and his fellow church leaders were "too low" and the law which allowed them the shorter jail terms should be amended.
"It is now up to parliament to amend the law, and that, we should do soon," Shanmugam told the legislature.
The six City Harvest Church leaders including Kong were initially handed prison terms ranging between eight years and 21 months by a lower court in 2015.
As well as the money spent on Ho's music career, they were also found guilty of misappropriating another Sg$26 million from the church to cover their tracks with a complex web of financial transactions.
But their sentences were cut last year by the High Court after the defendants successfully argued they should not have been charged under a law punishing criminal breach of trust by public individuals in senior positions.
The 53-year-old senior pastor's eight-year jail term was reduced to three-and-a-half years under a different law for ordinary members of public which carries shorter sentences.
The Court of Appeal, Singapore's top court, said its ruling last week upholding the shorter sentences was based on a gap in the law which only parliament can amend.
Shanmugam on Monday condemned elements of the public backlash from the decision, in which some accused Kong of getting away lightly because his defence lawyer was a member of parliament with the ruling People's Action Party.
Criticism "should not sink to the level of abuse, insult and contempt", he said.
Four church leaders including Kong are currently serving their sentences, one has finished her seven-month term and another will start serving his sentence on February 22.
In a 2007 music video called "China Wine" published on YouTube featured the pastor's scantily-clad wife with rapper Wyclef Jean.
In another video, for a reggae-tinged song entitled "Mr Bill", Ho appeared as an Asian wife who sings about killing her African-American husband, played by supermodel Tyson Beckford.
Ho, who co-founded the church, was never charged.