Archbishop appeals to court for leniency in Kang's sentencing

THE head of Singapore's Roman Catholic Church, Archbishop Nicholas Chia, made a surprise appeal yesterday to the district judge presiding over the corruption trial of Joachim Kang.

Although Archbishop Chia testified against Kang during the trial, he wrote a letter urging the judge to be lenient.

In the letter, which was written of his own accord, he said that Kang, 55, 'has been a priest since 1974, had served the pastoral needs of the parishioners well'.

When Kang is sentenced, Archbishop Chia said: 'He suffers the loss of moral standing in the Christian community, the loss of the exercise of his priestly ministry while in prison, he will be subjected to Church sanctions, he will have to accept spiritual counselling and will have to live with the stigma of his guilt for the rest of his life'.

The letter added: 'Though the Catholic Church did not and does not condone what Father Kang had done, on behalf of the Archdiocese, I am humbly requesting Your Honour to temper justice with mercy and compassion when you impose sentence...'

It was among more than 10 testimonials from nuns and parishioners which Kang's lawyers, Mr Peter Low and Mr Mark Goh, submitted to the court as part of Kang's mitigation plea.

Among the letter writers were retired teachers and doctors who said Kang was a dedicated parish priest who had 'looked after his flock well'.

However, the prosecution saw him differently. To them, he was a dishonest parish priest who had used church funds unlawfully, and for personal gain.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Daniel Koh said that to make matters worse, Kang 'continued to make various perverse claims at trial'.

Kang's claim that he acted within legitimate Church rules when he committed the offences was 'most disconcerting', DPP Koh said.

It is critical, he added, for Kang to 'be made to admit to the offences, that he had acted dishonestly, and that he does not continue to mislead his supporters and sympathisers'.

In his mitigation, Kang revealed through his lawyers that he had bequeathed all his bank deposits, stocks and shares and an apartment in England to the Church in a will he had drawn up in 1994.

Mr Low, his lawyer, said: 'At all material times, he regarded his worldly possessions as ultimately belonging to the Church.'

Kang also indicated how he planned to pay back the $5.1 million he took.

He said $2.5 million would come from his bank accounts, which had been frozen since his arrest, once the Commercial Affairs Department allows him to use them again.

The rest will come from the sale of two apartments in Teresa Ville and Fifth Avenue within six months. If need be, Mr Low said, four apartments in Penang will also be sold within nine months.

Asking district judge Jasvender Kaur to be lenient, Mr Low said that for Kang: 'The shame of going to prison is sufficient punishment.'

In his response, DPP Koh pointed out that Kang's willing of his possessions to the Church was a requirement for all parish priests.

He added that the mitigation plea was 'sorely lacking in remorse', and that he had never apologised to the Church, the Archbishop nor the parishioners.

Kang, who pleaded guilty to six counts of criminal breach of trust last week, will be sentenced on Friday. p> After the hearing yesterday, Kang told reporters that the last few weeks have been a 'long and trying time for me personally, as well as for my family and friends, including priests, parishioners and lay people'.

'Nevertheless, I'm very grateful for the wonderful support shown me by so many people,' he said in his first comments to the press since the trial began.