Ming Yi on Trial: Buzz in the gallery, but little drama as aide takes stand

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Ming Yi on Trial
Buzz in the gallery, but little drama as aide takes stand
Monk’s soft-spoken assistant testifies about $50,000 loan

By Andre Yeo

July 25, 2009 Print Ready Email Article

FINALLY, Raymond Yeung took the stand.

Click to see larger image
LONG HISTORY: Raymond Yeung (left) said he first met Ming Yi (right) at a temple in Hong Kong in 2001. ST FILE PICTURE

More people turned up in court yesterday and there was a buzz in the gallery. The testimony of the former personal assistant and co-accused of Shi Ming Yi had been widely anticipated.

The prosecution’s cross-examination of the founder and former CEO of Ren Ci Hospital had ended the day before.

There had been sharp exchanges and even tears, with the monk breaking down at the mention of another close associate, the hospital’s former treasurer, Mr Wee Beng Seng.

But there was less drama yesterday. Yeung, 34, who had been silent till then, spoke unemotionally about his relationship with Ming Yi.

He also talked about how he shared a bank account with another man in Hong Kong, where the money at the centre of the trial was deposited.

Ming Yi, 47, is accused of having made an unauthorised $50,000 loan on 17 May 2004 to Yeung, who has often been seen arriving at court with the monk.

The money was supposedly lent by Ren Ci to the Mandala Buddhist Cultural Centre, a shop that sells Buddhist artefacts, which Yeung ran.

Shared bank account

The prosecution claims the money was given to Yeung instead, to fund his friend’s flat renovations in Hong Kong. It was this friend that Yeung said he shared a bank account with in Hong Kong.

Yeung, an Australian citizen and a Singapore permanent resident, faces two charges and is being tried with Ming Yi.

The soft-spoken former hotel receptionist and Cathay Pacific air steward answered questions earnestly, at one point asking the judge for permission to take a sip of water.

Dressed in a long-sleeved shirt and grey pants, and arriving in court with his now-familiar tote bag, he spoke through a Cantonese interpreter without looking at Ming Yi who sat in the dock, sometimes with his head bowed.

He told the court he first met Ming Yi at a temple in Hong Kong in 2000. They continued to meet whenever the monk was there, chatting about Buddhism and many other topics.

Yeung said he confided in Ming Yi that as a staunch Buddhist, he wanted to do something for Buddhism.

‘There was some interaction between us,’ he said.

And when Yeung visited Singapore, he said Ming Yi took him to visit monasteries, hospitals, childcare and student centres under him.

He said Ming Yi later asked him if he was interested in helping him in his work. Ren Ci would employ him as the monk’s personal assistant.

He said: ‘I was aware that I had to travel with him from one country to another.’

Yeung said he spent several months thinking about the job offer. After consulting his parents, he finally agreed, and became Ming Yi’s personal assistant in June 2001.

From what Yeung told the court, Ming Yi greatly trusted him, giving him responsibilities in fund-raising projects, including the first Ren Ci Charity Show in 2003. He planned the monk’s meetings, and was allowed to sit in on board meetings.

Three years into his job, on 16 May 2004, Yeung received a call from his friend, Willie.

Answering his lawyer, Mr Ng Lip Chih, Yeung said he knew Willie had bought a house in Hong Kong. He said Willie had told him the renovation contractor was after him for payment.

Yeung said he had promised his friend he would foot part of the renovation bill, and Willie was now asking him for HK$200,000 ($37,000).

Said Yeung: ‘It was very sudden… and if there was no payment made, they would stop work.’

Yeung, whose parents and 32-year-old sister live in Macau, said he told Willie he needed time.

The next day, Yeung, who had not yet got his employment pass from the Manpower Ministry, asked Ming Yi for a $50,000 loan.

Yeung said he told Ming Yi he wanted to borrow the money from Mandala as his home in Hong Kong had ‘cashflow problems’.

Said Yeung: ‘Venerable agreed and said ‘okay’.’

Yeung admitted he was aware Mandala didn’t have the money to lend him.

He said Ming Yi did not question him on why he wanted to borrow the money through Mandala.

Mr Ng asked how long the conversation lasted and Yeung replied: ‘Very short, several minutes.’

He said he knew that when he asked for a loan, he was still not a Ren Ci employee. He said he got his employment pass only at the end of November 2004.

He took the $50,000 to Hong Kong on 22 May and two days later deposited the money into a joint account which he shared with Willie.

He said: ‘I told Willie I had deposited the sum of money and let him deal with it.’

Mr Ng asked if he knew what Willie did with the money.

Yeung said: ‘He paid the contractor.’

Yeung said Ming Yi asked him on two or three occasions about whether he had repaid the $50,000.

Each time, Yeung said, he told his boss he would do so as soon as possible.

The trial ended at noon as Yeung said he was not feeling well. Mr Ng said his client had gone to East Shore Hospital on Wednesday evening and had got a medical certificate.

But Yeung is due to take the stand again today, with the trial expected to end early next week.

And there may be more fireworks in store, when the prosecution gets to cross examine him.


ABOUT THE CASE

MING Yi faces 10 charges of fraud, forgery and misappropriating $350,000.

He is accused of providing false or misleading information to the Commissioner of Charities, conspiracy to falsify a payment voucher and misappropriation of Ren Ci funds.

One charge is that he gave then personal assistant Raymond Yeung an unauthorised $50,000 loan on 17 May 2004 to pay for the renovation of Yeung’s Hong Kong flat.

He and Yeung are being tried jointly in the Subordinate Courts.

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