Friday, 29 August 2014

City Harvest Church Trial: It's not a cover up

Update 14 Oct 2014: City Harvest’s Sun Ho on US pop music career: Many times, I asked God how long more I had to do it

Sun Ho has acknowledged for the first time in public that she herself was having trouble reconciling the image of a pastor’s wife with her pop music persona as the “Chinese Geisha”.


“People in the church world were upset with me, asking how could a pastor’s wife do this, and people in the entertainment world were suspicious of me,” said Ho in a wide-ranging interview with City News, the online news arm of City Harvest Church (CHC) on Saturday.

Referring to the Crossover Project — the church’s mission to evangelise using secular pop music — the 42-year-old wife of City Harvest founder Kong Hee said, "There were moments during the Crossover, when I felt alone and I seldom talk about this, of course I had my US team, but it was just a hard mission".
“There were days when I didn’t serve the vision with the best attitude. It was hard to be on the road, to be apart from the family I’m so close to…” she admitted, realizing that “the values in the world and those in the church are poles apart”.
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Finance manager concedes her action may have deceived auditors
Sharon Tan, finance manager of City Harvest Church (CHC), outside the Court for the CHC leaders trial. She and five other church leaders are on trial for allegedly misusing church funds through sham bonds. They face charges of criminal breach of trust and/or falsifying accounts. PHOTO: NP

City Harvest Church finance manager Sharon Tan broke down on the stand on Friday, even as she conceded that information she had inserted into church board meeting minutes may have deceived auditors.

Choking up under cross-examination by Deputy Public Prosecutor Mavis Chionh, the 39-year-old said:

"Your honour, it might be seen like they are being deceived, but... it wasn't my intention."



City Harvest trial: 'Xtron is like CHC's GIC'

(left) CHC founder Kong Hee and (right) finance manager Sharon Tan

Xtron Productions is like City Harvest Church's (CHC) own GIC, its founder Kong Hee had told church members in a speech. GIC is a Government-run sovereign wealth fund.

Just like the GIC, Xtron was meant to protect the interest of CHC, he had said in August 2008.

His words were the topic of yesterday's hearing, with CHC finance manager Sharon Tan taking the stand to answer questions from her lawyer, Senior Counsel Kannan Ramesh.

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Serina Wee was in a dilemma

Xtron had spent close to S$5 million meant for the rental of a Singapore Expo hall on Ms Ho Yeow Sun's singing enterprise. Now Xtron, which managed Ms Ho's music career from 2003 to 2008, needed money to cover the rental fees.

The firm had money elsewhere. City Harvest Church (CHC) had bought S$13 million of its bonds. But the bond proceeds were off-limits and could not be used to pay the rent.

So Wee, who provided accounting services to Xtron, thought of a plan: Use the bond money to pay the rent and disguise its use under a "travelling and salaries" section.

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Serina Wee projected $9.5 million loss from Sun Ho’s album
Music production firm Xtron was bleeding heavily from funding singer Sun Ho's albums and singles

It suffered losses of $9.5 million in the four years after its incorporation in 2003, based on a document shown by the prosecution yesterday.

The prosecution continued its case that City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee and five other church leaders had used Xtron as a "shell company" to enable the misuse of church funds. (See report above.)

Kong, who is on the stand, had maintained that investing into a $13 million Xtron bond in 2007 would bring "good returns".

Full coverage: City Harvest Church

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City Harvest trial: Church leaders hid bank loan to buy property
Worshippers attend a church service at the City Harvest Church in Singapore March 1, 2014

When rumours began swirling online after City Harvest Church had bought a multimillion-dollar stake in Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre, accountant Serina Wee’s brother voiced his concerns to her after he had read a blog post in March 2010.

In an email to co-accused Tan Ye Peng and Chew Eng Han about her brother Roland’s concerns, Wee — who is among six church leaders on trial for misusing church funds — said her brother was raising questions he felt any financially-trained person would have asked.

Mr Wee had asked about church-linked entity Xtron Productions, which had previously helped acquire property for the church. He said anyone looking at Xtron’s accounts would have asked where its S$6 million (RM15 million) share capital had come from.


Kong told Sun Ho's album producers to plan 'as if the sky's the limit': Prosecutors

In the ongoing City Harvest Church trial, the prosecution charged that founder Kong Hee and his deputies controlled when to draw down Xtron bonds, and how these funds would be used. It said the bonds were simply a sham mechanism to tap on the church's building fund to obtain money whenever needed to finance the church's Crossover Project.

Kong and his five deputies are in the dock for allegedly using millions of the church's money to buy sham bonds. The project, fronted by Kong's wife Sun Ho, is a way of evangelising through secular pop music.

The court heard that even before the church entered into the bond transactions with Xtron - Ms Ho's artiste management firm - Kong had made decisions concerning the financing of her music career - before getting the approval of Xtron directors.


City Harvest trial: Kong 'did not care' about recovering church loan
Kong said Xtron directors had the final say on the overall budget for Ms Ho's planned US debut album

When $300,000 was needed for, among other things, a party in the upmarket Hamptons area in New York to promote his wife's music career, City Harvest founder Kong Hee gave the go ahead.

But when it came to keeping tabs on how to repay the church loan that helped pay for it, Kong admitted in court yesterday that he lacked full knowledge.

He did not, for instance, realise Xtron Productions, which managed his wife Ho Yeow Sun's pop career, had just two years to repay the $13 million it borrowed from the church.


Chew to Kong Hee: You didn't give to church
You've never loved your church members and you never cared if the church lost money

Yesterday, former City Harvest Church (CHC) investment manager Chew Eng Han continued to assert that the megachurch's founder, Kong Hee, had deceived those close to him.

He accused Kong of falsifying information - such as the church's attendance figures - and for choosing not to recoup the money sunk into singer Sun Ho's American album.

Chew, Kong and four others are accused of misusing more than $50 million of church money to finance pop singer Ho Yeow Sun's music career and covering up their tracks.


Kong Hee ‘had wide-ranging control over church-linked firms’
Kong Hee said in court that he was the ‘invisible patron’ of some organisations due to their love and honour for him. Today File Photo

His control over church-linked entities ranged from salary issues to multi-million-dollar property transactions, prosecutors cross-examining City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee argued yesterday.

Building its case of criminal breach of trust against Kong, the prosecution produced a string of documents showing that he apparently had the final say in the key decisions of entities that he has insisted were separate from the church.

One of these entities was Xtron Productions, which managed the pop music career of Kong’s wife Ho Yeow Sun and was the vehicle the church used to acquire property.


City Harvest trial: Prosecution says Xtron bonds were a sham

In the high-profile City Harvest Church trial, the prosecution sought to prove that church founder Kong Hee gave the nod for the church to invest S$13 million in Xtron bonds, despite knowing that there was no reasonable prospect of financial returns from the investment.

The prosecution is aiming to show that the bonds were a sham, and simply a vehicle for Kong and his deputies to funnel church monies into funding the secular music career of his wife Sun Ho.

Between 2003 and 2007, Ho's Asian albums and US singles led to an almost S$10 million-dollar combined net loss for Xtron Productions, her artiste management firm. The prosecution said that to inject capital into Xtron, sponsors were approached, or the church would simply buy up her CDs as "evangelical tools".


Former friends clash in bid to discredit testimony
John Lam (right) crossed swords with Chew Eng Han in court as the latter tried to discredit his earlier assertion that it was Chew’s idea to cook up the alleged sham deals that landed the six accused in court

It was a showdown yesterday between two men who used to be friends and comrades-in-arms on the City Harvest Church board.

Chew Eng Han, who oversaw its investments, mounted a feisty examination of former board member John Lam, who took the stand for a third day. Both men are among six accused on trial. Chew, 54, was asking the questions himself as he had discharged his lawyer in May, citing a "deep personal conviction" of the need to defend himself.

He had also abruptly quit the church in June last year over deep-seated differences.

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E-mails reveal Kong Hee's other side
ON THE STAND: Church founder Kong Hee (above) was cross-examined by the prosecution yesterday

He was a church leader not to be crossed. Even his own right-hand man found that out the hard way, according to e-mails presented to the court yesterday.

In the e-mails, City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee blasted deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng for simply going along with the "naive" and "ignorant" consultants who made singer Sun Ho's concerts in China "result-less".

He scolded Tan in the e-mail: "You are not critical enough in your thinking. You are too optimistic and hopeful of people when you shouldn't be.



Kong decided on 'what money to spend, how much and where it would come from'
City Harvest founder Kong Hee (L) and Tan Ye Peng (R)

The prosecution sought to show that Kong closely supervised the other co-defendants. Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong produced a 2007 e-mail in which Kong had berated Tan Ye Peng for failing to ensure that his wife's China concerts were a success

Snippets of the 2007 email exchange between City Harvest founder Kong Hee to Tan Ye Peng:
  • "The Beijing and Shanghai events cost us so much money... but at the end, who came? It was a joke!
  • "Time wasted. Efforts wasted. Objectives not met. Money thrown away unnecessarily. I don't get it. How have we become good stewards of money? We tried to save a few thousands on hotels and (threw) hundreds and thousands on result-less concerts.
  • "How I wish I can run the whole show the way I run our church (in) the last 18 years! But I can't... (My wife and I) are putting our lives and destiny at the hands of our disciples, our spiritual children. We hope you guys don't let us down."
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CHC spent $500k to buy Sun Ho's unsold CDs
Sun Ho was not the successful singer City Harvest Church had made her out to be. Evidence showed the church spent about half a million dollars to buy her unsold Mandarin CDs

The profitability of her artiste management company Xtron was also questioned, as the trial involving the church's leader Kong Hee and his five deputies resumed on Monday (Aug 4). 

The six church leaders are accused of misusing millions of church funds to buy sham bonds to bankroll Sun Ho's music career.

She had been touted as a big commercial success, but lead prosecutor Mavis Chionh said the financial statements told a different story. In 2004, City Harvest Church spent about half a million dollars to buy her unsold (Mandarin) CDs - numbering at least 32,000 copies - to give away to overseas ministries and overseas churches.



City Harvest trial: Kong did not care about church, Chew says
If Kong Hee was concerned about the church suffering losses, he would have tried to salvage the songs that Ms Sun Ho had already recorded, co-accused Chew Eng Han said

City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee did not love the church and its members, and was not that concerned about it suffering losses, charged its former investment manager Chew Eng Han. Chew made these accusations against Kong in a bid to show he'd been deceived by his "spiritual mentor".

The pair are among six leaders in the dock for allegedly misusing church funds to bankroll the secular pop music career of Kong's wife, Sun Ho.

Wrapping up his cross-examination on Tuesday (Aug 19), Chew said that if Kong truly cared about the church getting back every dollar, he would have tried to salvage the songs that Ms Ho had already recorded for her US debut album. Kong could also have tried to sell the songs’ copyrights, or have Ms Ho return to the US to finish and launch the album, Chew said.


City Harvest trial: Lam using Chew as a scapegoat, prosecution argues

Former City Harvest Church board member John Lam was trying to use his co-accused and former church investment manager Chew Eng Han as a "scapegoat", alleged the prosecution, as the high-profile trial involving the six church leaders resumed on Thursday (Aug 7).

This was in relation to a "secret letter" that Lam had signed on behalf of the church board - even though the board had not been told of the letter, and had not given him the mandate to sign it.

The six defendants are accused of using millions of church dollars to buy sham bonds from two companies, Xtron and Firna, in order to fund the secular music career of Sun Ho, the wife of church founder Kong Hee.

related:

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Full Coverage:
TODAY: Kong Hee 'had wide-ranging control over church-linked firms'
TODAY: City Harvest trial: Kong knew Sun Ho's success was not real, Chew says
Straits Times: Former treasurer Chew Eng Han calls founder Kong Hee a liar
AsiaOne: Chew to Kong Hee: You didn't give to church
Straits Times: Founder Kong Hee 'not that concerned' that church lost money
TODAYonline: Kong lied about Ho's success, says co-accused
TODAYonline: Kong at fault if Crossover financing was illegal: Prosecution
CNA: Kong Hee wanted to distance financing of Sun Ho's music career from church
TODAY: CHC leaders tried to hide true reasons for incorporating Xtron: Prosecution
TODAY: Kong had ultimate say in funding Ho's music career: Prosecution
TODAY: Kong not genuinely concerned about CHC's losses: Chew
TODAY: City Harvest trial: Kong did not care about church, says co-accused
CNA: City Harvest trial: Kong did not care about church, Chew says
TODAY: Church leaders 'hid reason for Xtron incorporation'
Straits Times: The Straits Times' News In A Minute: Aug 20, 2014
Malay Mail: CHC saga: Church founder lied about wife's singing career

related:
5 CHC Leaders begin jail terms
City Harvest Church appeal against conviction
Sentence of City Harvest Church leaders
Verdict of City Harvest Church Trial
Mega Church Scandal In Singapore