Saturday, 31 October 2015

The World’s eye on City Harvest verdict


EVERY once in awhile a piece of news from the little red dot goes worldwide. And in the case of the City Harvest Church verdict, why not? It’s a tale of religion, ambition, and intrigue, complete with millions in squirrelled away cash and a Hollywood popstar wannabe. Yesterday’s verdict was reported in at least 10 news outlets from around the world, including Indonesia, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Australia and even as far as the US and UK. Big names like The New York Times (NYT) and The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) also ran a piece online.

Both the NYT and WSJ kept their story tight by reporting the facts of the verdict and went light on background, including only why the six were being tried and the sentences they face. Bloomberg Business news wrote a skimpy piece, with only four paragraphs outlining the bare bones of the story.

Across the Atlantic, British newspaper The Guardian, like the NYT and WSJ, also reported the verdict matter-of-factly. The Telegraph though, was more colourful. It included a screenshot of Ms Sun Ho’s China Wine music video, describing it “sexually-charged lyrics in skimpily-clad outfits in series of glitzy music videos”.

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City Harvest trial: How the international media reported it

All six accused of multimillion-dollar fraud in the high-profile City Harvest Church (CHC) trial were found guilty on Wednesday (Oct 21).

In a trial that had run since May 2013, church founder Kong Hee, former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, former CHC finance managers Serina Wee and Sharon Tan, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, and former CHC finance committee member John Lam were convicted of varying charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts.

The proceedings captured much attention both in Singapore and abroad:
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Inside Singapore's City Harvest megachurch scandal
City Harvest was founded by Kong Hee (right) and his wife, pastor turned pop singer Sun Ho (left)

The City Harvest megachurch scandal is the biggest corruption case squeaky-clean Singapore has seen in years. From racy music videos to a convoluted money trail, the case has riveted Singaporeans.

City Harvest Church was founded by the charismatic pastor Kong Hee and his wife, pastor turned pop singer Sun Ho, in 1989. Known for its slick image and wealth-focused brand of Christianity, it has grown rapidly and is now estimated to have some 30,000 members in Singapore and elsewhere.

But on Wednesday, Kong and five other church leaders were convicted of fraud, in a case worth $50m Singapore dollars ($35m; £23m).

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Singapore Megachurch Founder Is Convicted of Fraud

The pastor of a Singapore megachurch was convicted of fraud on Wednesday, with a judge finding that he had used millions in church funds to promote his wife’s career in pop music.

The pastor, Kong Hee, of City Harvest Church, and five other church officials were convicted of charges related to the misuse of $36 million to support the career of Mr. Kong’s wife, Ho Yeow Sun, a singer also known as Sun Ho. The six church leaders were indicted in 2012, and their 140-day trial has been followed closely in Singapore, which is known for aggressively prosecuting corruption cases.

Mr. Kong and the other leaders, who were convicted of varying counts of criminal breach of trust, face up to 20 years in prison. No date has been set for their sentencing.

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Singapore Court Finds Pastor Guilty of $35 Million Fraud
City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee arrived with his wife, Ho Yeow Sun, at a Singapore court on Wednesday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The founder of a popular evangelist church here was found guilty Wednesday of misappropriating $35.9 million in church funds to promote his wife’s singing career in the U.S. and Asia.

The case is a rare example of financial prosecution in a city state reputed to be among the world’s most corruption-free and rule-abiding countries.

A Singapore court ruled that Kong Hee, the founder and a senior pastor at City Harvest Church, was guilty of a criminal breach of trust. A judge found that he used funds—50.6 million Singaporean dollars—meant for church building and investments to help his wife, Ho Yeow Sun, to promote her album and falsify church records to cover up the initial misappropriation.

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Singapore Pastor Convicted of Funds Misuse for Pop Star Wife

The founder of Singapore’s City Harvest Church was convicted for his role in misusing S$50 million ($36 million) of church funds for his wife’s pop music career. His bail was set at S$1 million.

Prosecutors had accused Kong, 51, and five others of conspiring to misuse the funds and using sham bond deals in the city’s largest graft case involving a charity. All were found guilty in court on Wednesday. The church, which has seen the number of its followers dwindle by about a quarter since the probe started in 2010, has said it stands by the six.

“The accused persons chose to engage in covert operations and conspiratorial cover-ups,” Presiding Judge See Kee Oon said in a packed courtroom in Singapore. “There is no doubt that they knew that they had something to hide.”

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Singapore pastor found guilty of using church funds for wife’s music career
Ho Sun and Kong Hee outside the state court in Singapore. Photograph: Wallace Woon/EPA

Leaders of a Christian church in Singapore who misappropriated £23m of church funds in a failed attempt to turn the pastor’s wife into a global pop star to attract more followers have been convicted of fraud after a two-year trial.

The charismatic pastor Kong Hee and five aides spent some of the money on glitzy music videos featuring scantily clad dancers to support his wife Sun Ho’s singing career in Asia and try to crack the US market.

Kong and Ho founded the City Harvest church (CHC) in 1989. Ho was marketed as “the singing pastor” in Asia, and released several singles. She worked on an album with the rapper Wyclef Jean and appeared in a 2007 music video with him, but international success eluded her, the court heard.

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Singaporean church leaders convicted of fraud in $23m project to turn pastor’s wife into pop star
City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee (R) arrives with his wife Ho Yeow Sunat the district state courts in Singapore Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Six leaders of a Singaporean “mega-church” have been convicted of a $36 million (£23 million) fraud after diverting the donations of disciples into a failed project to turn a pastor’s wife called Ho into a global rap music star.

Kong Hee, the founder and chief pastor, and five aides failed to persuade the judge that the scheme was a legitimate use of church funds to spread God’s word to the secular world by helping his wife break into US music market.

Sun Ho, 43, who performed under the stage name ‘SUN aka Geisha’, singing sexually-charged lyrics in skimpily-clad outfits in series of glitzy music videos, was not accused of any wrongdoing in the venture.

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Singapore City Harvest megachurch leaders guilty of fraud
The court ruled the weight of evidence against the six showed they had acted dishonestly

Six leaders of a huge Singaporean church have been convicted of fraud in a case worth S$50m ($35m; £23m).

The judge ruled City Harvest Church's pastor, Kong Hee, and others used church finances to fund the music career of his wife, Sun Ho, or falsified accounts to cover it up.

The defendants had argued Ms Ho's pop music career was a way of reaching out to non-Christians.

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Unholy row: Singapore megachurch leaders hit a sour note in pop music fraud case
Singaporean pop music singer Ho Yeow Sun leaving court during the case against her husband. She was not charged but her husband was found guilty of diverting millions to support her career. Photo: AP

The co-founder of a Singapore church and five other leaders have been convicted of multimillion-dollar fraud  for diverting money to support his wife's pop singing career, a rare fall from grace in the tightly regulated city-state.

The mix of money, faith and scandal in the case has fascinated the public in affluent Singapore.

Senior pastor Kong Hee heads City Harvest Church, one of a growing number of Singapore's megachurches preaching "prosperity gospel" that blends spiritual and material aspirations.

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Singapore church leaders convicted of fraud over pastor's wife's failed $50m music career
PHOTO: City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee (R) and his wife Sun Ho arrive at the State Courts in Singapore. (Reuters: Edgar Su)

Six religious leaders in Singapore who used $50 million in church funds in a failed bid to turn the pastor's glamorous wife into a global pop star have been convicted of fraud.

After a two-year trial that captivated Singapore with tales of lavish spending and financial deceit, pastor Kong Hee and five aides were found guilty of diverting $Sg24 million ($24 million) to finance his wife Sun Ho's music career, which was portrayed as a religious mission.

The six were also found guilty of misappropriating another $Sg26m from City Harvest Church to cover their tracks, prosecutors said.

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It's a 'rap' for Singapore church in $36m fraud

Six leaders of a Singaporean "mega-church" have been convicted of a $36million fraud after diverting donations into a failed project to turn a pastor's wife into a global rap music star.

Kong Hee, the founder and chief pastor of the City Harvest Church, and five aides failed to persuade the judge that the scheme was a legitimate use of church funds to spread God's word by helping his wife Ho crack the US music market.

The racy details of the two-year trial captivated the city state, which is famously law-abiding and where corruption is rare. Kong and five aides were convicted of stealing $17m by using fake bond investments to mask the spending on Ms Ho's career. The court also found that they used a further $18.5m to try to hide the first fraud from auditors.

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Singapore megachurch leaders hit a sour note in pop music fraud case
(City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee (R) and his wife Sun Ho, also known as Ho Yeow Sun, at the State Courts in Singapore October 21, 2015. REUTERS/Edgar Su)

The co-founder of a Singapore church and five other leaders were convicted of multi-million dollar fraud on Wednesday for diverting money to support his wife’s pop singing career, a rare fall from grace in the tightly regulated city-state.

The mix of money, faith and scandal in the case has fascinated the public in affluent Singapore, where such cases are rare under a system with little tolerance for corruption.

Senior pastor Kong Hee heads City Harvest Church, one of a growing number of Singapore’s megachurches preaching “prosperity gospel” that blends spiritual and material aspirations.

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Singapore church leaders convicted of fraud in pop music venture
City Harvest Church's former finance manager Serina Wee (centre) arrivig at the district state courts in Singapore on Oct 21, 2015. - AFP pic

Six religious leaders in Singapore who used US$36 million (RM155 million) in church funds in a failed bid to turn the pastor’s glamorous wife into a global pop star were convicted on Wednesday of fraud.

After a two-year trial that captivated Singapore with tales of lavish spending and financial deceit, pastor Kong Hee and five aides were found guilty of diverting Sg$24 million (RM74 million) to finance his wife Sun Ho’s music career, which was portrayed as a religious mission.

The six were also found guilty of misappropriating another Sg$26 million (RM80 million) from City Harvest Church to cover their tracks, prosecutors said.

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Singapore mega-church head guilty of embezzling $35 million
In this July 12, 2012, file photo, City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee, center, is surrounded by the media as he arrives at the Subordinate Courts in Singapore. (AP/Wong Maye-E)

The founder of a popular Singapore church was found guilty Wednesday of misappropriating more than $35.5 million in donations to support his wife's singing career in Asia before helping her break into the U.S. market for evangelization purposes.

Kong Hee, the founder and senior pastor of City Harvest Church, was found guilty with five other church leaders of stealing 24 million Singapore dollars ($17 million) designated for building and investment-related purposes through sham bond investments.

The State Court also found that they used another 26 million dollars ($18.5 million) to hide the first embezzlement from auditors. It is a rare case of corruption of such magnitude in the city-state, which has an image of being highly law-abiding and largely graft-free.

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Sing when you’re sinning? Six Singaporean church leaders convicted for US$36 million fraud with bizarre link to pastor’s pop star wife
Top left to right: former finance manager Serina Wee, founder Kong Hee, former finance manager Sharon Tan. Bottom left to right: , deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, former treasurer John Lam, and former fund manager Chew Eng Han. Photo: Reuters

After a two-year trial that captivated Singapore with tales of lavish spending and financial deceit, pastor Kong Hee and five aides were found guilty Wednesday of diverting S$24 million (HK$133.8 million) to finance his wife Sun Ho’s singing career, which failed to take off.

The six, who insisted the project was conceived for religious reasons, were also found guilty of misappropriating another S$26 million from the evangelical City Harvest Church (CHC) to cover their tracks, prosecutors said.

Ho, 43, who appeared in a 2007 music video with rapper Wyclef Jean in an attempt to cross over from Mandarin pop and reach a wider English-language audience, was not charged.

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City Harvest's Kong Hee speaks of 'difficult time', asks for prayers
The founder of City Harvest Church in Singapore, Kong Hee, was found guilty of fraud

Kong Hee, the Singapore megachurch pastor found guilty of fraud after a long-running trial, broke his silence on Facebook yesterday saying it was a "difficult time" for him and his family.


Kong, pastor of the 20,000-member City Harvest Church, was charged with three offences of criminal breach of trust in connection with attempts to boost his wife Sun Ho's singing career using church funds. He and his five co-defendants misused $17 million from the church's building fund. A further $18.5 million was used to cover up the scheme through a complicated system of bond issues and 'round-tripping' transactions in which the church used its own money to pay debt owed to it.

Kong had steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout the trial, which lasted for 140 days. He won the support of many Christian leaders who believe that the case was founded on a misunderstanding. The funds were used to support Sun Ho's career through CHC's 'Crossover Project', aimed at promoting a Christian voice in the secular music industry – a mission tactic familiar in the West but far less so in the East.

related:
Kong Hee and CHC: How a music 'ministry' led to a megachurch pastor's downfall
Singapore court finds megachurch pastor Kong Hee guilty of fraud
Megachurch pastor facing fraud charges hits back over 'high life' claims
Spore pastor's trial: Kong Hee is victim of cultural differences, not fraud, say supporters


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Sun Ho Will Need to ‘Dance Her Problems Away’ to Face Critics as China Wine Video’s Page Views Soars
Pastor Kong Hee pictured with his wife, Sun Ho

It's a video that could easily top the dance charts: scantily-clad Asian girls and black/Latinas face off to a funky beat, and there's a bit of a hip hop rap and expert twerking long before Miley Cyrus knew how to work it.

The problem is, disillusioned members and critics of Singapore's City Harvest Church find it hard to believe that this kind of music was intended to evangelize the world with the Christian gospel.

The China Wine video is sung and starred by Sun Ho a.k.a. Geisha a.k.a. Ho Yeow Sun, co-pastor and wife of disgraced City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee, who was recently charged guilty, together with four other City Harvest Church leaders and former member Chew Eng Han, for misappropriating S$24 million of church funds. The money went to support Ho's music career, the Straits Times reports.

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Kong Hee and Sun Ho paid for expenses from account made up of "love gift" donations
HELP: Court documents revealed that City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and his wife Sun Ho were able to fall back on 'love gifts' from churchgoers

City Harvest Church founder and wife paid for expenses from multi-purpose account made up of church members' donations

Travel expenditure that ran into the hundreds of thousands.

Hair, make-up and medical costs that hit more than $100,000.

related:
Sun who? Why Sun Ho failed to crack US market
Judge: Sun Ho's music success was 'inflated'
sun ho | The New Paper
CHC trial judge: Church leaders unrealistic about Sun Ho's
Sun Ho 'disappointed' - The New Paper
Kong Hee & Sun Ho paid for expenses from ac made up of "love gift" donations
The New Paper - Sun Ho's costly music career - Facebook
The New Paper - Sun Ho had an apparently successful track
Sun Ho’s music success was ‘inflated’
SERINA 
WEE, 38 News


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Post-Verdict CHC: Out Of The Ashes, We Rise
City Harvest Church’s services this past weekend capped the end of a painful chapter for the church and heralded the beginning of a brand new phase filled with hope

This past weekend was an important one for City Harvest Church. Last Wednesday, all six parties involved in the trial were found guilty of all charges. Sentencing will take place on Nov 20.

Standing before his congregation after praise and worship, senior pastor Kong Hee apologized and bowed before the people. “Pastor is sorry for the pain you all have had to endure under my leadership and watch,” he said. “Pastor is sorry, but hopefully, that season in the life of our church is in the past.”

There were few dry eyes in the auditorium as the people stood to their feet, cheering and applauding Kong, rendering their support and love to their senior pastor.

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Kong Hee posts video excerpt of Sun Ho’s ordination as pastor

As some of you might have learned, following the City Harvest Church six’s guilty verdict last week, church founder Kong Hee’s wife Sun Ho has been ordained as church pastor in the wake of the high-publicity trial.

Kong, one of the six found guilty of fraud, put up a video on Oct. 19 on his Facebook page, which features a short excerpt of the ceremony:
Kong presents Ho with a bible, saying:
“40 years ago, I became a believer. This is the first bible I owned. And in every ordination normally the ordaining pastor gives a bible. Let this be a symbol of the authority I am handing to you. Sun, this is my bible, it is now in your hands. Let’s give Sun a big clap right now.”
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6 leaders found guilty on all charges, out on bail

All six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders facing charges including criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts were found guilty on all counts on Wednesday (Oct 21).

Following the judgment, the church said all six are now taking legal advice, with some of their lawyers suggesting their clients may appeal the sentence. All have been released on bail of between S$750,000 and S$1 million, though overseas travel is not permitted.

Sentencing will take place at a later date, with the court due to hear submissions from defence and prosecution lawyers from Nov 6 to 20.

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Full Coverage:
City Harvest Trial
Idea was to spread Gospel via pop music
Kong Hee tells church members: Pastor is sorry
City Harvest Church sees 25 per cent drop in members since 2009
Sun Ho Will Need to 'Dance Her Problems Away' to Face Critics as China Wine
Judge: They were all dishonest
CHC says it has taken steps to improve accountability
'I'm here to pray for a fallen man'
City Harvest Church sees 25% drop in members since 2009
City Harvest trial: Kong Hee apologises to church members for 'pain
Kong Hee: This is a difficult time for me
CHC trial may cost over $10m in legal fees
Kong Hee 'key man behind church scandal'
Most costly criminal trial in S'pore?
In City Harvest judgment, Judge singles out Kong Hee's part in 'culture of
COC to resume action to bar leaders from key posts
City Harvest culture 'mired in secrecy'
City Harvest trial: Most costly criminal trial in Singapore?
City Harvest's Kong Hee speaks of 'difficult time', asks for prayers

Reactions to verdict
Kong Hee tells church members: Pastor is sorry
Kong Hee: This is a difficult time for me

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