CHC trial: China whine

CHC trial: China whine
NOT HER STYLE: Sun Ho (below, in long-sleeved top in the music video for China Wine) did not think the music suited her.

China Wine was supposed to be an example of how singer Sun Ho could break into the American music market.

But behind the scenes, Ho was uncomfortable with the Asian-reggae fusion music that she was asked to perform, despite the number of hits that the single, featuring hip-hop musician Wyclef Jean, was getting on YouTube.

Her husband, City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee, said he was also having concerns working with her producer, Wyclef. But they persisted for as long as they could because breaking into the US entertainment market was part of CHC's mission to reach out and spread the gospel to the rest of the world, said Kong in court yesterday.

Kong and five other CHC leaders are on trial for allegedly misusing more than $50 million of church money through sham bonds.

Some of this money was allegedly used to fund Ho's music career through two companies - music production firm Xtron and glass manufacturer Firna.

Kong, 49, is the second accused to take the stand after former board member John Lam.

Yesterday, Kong said renowned songwriter and "hit-maker" Wyclef was brought in by American music producer Justin Herz to "polish up" Ho's English album in 2006. By then, Ho had already released some English singles.

While Kong said he was initially uncomfortable with Wyclef's high asking price, he was also very excited to have the famous producer on board.

Wyclef then said that the songs that were already recorded for the album were "too white" for Ho and did not sound authentic, said Kong.

So he suggested re-recording the entire album and introduced "a unique sound just like the way he did with Shakira, to have an Asian-reggae album", he said.

Colombian singer Shakira had collaborated with Wyclef on a hit Latino-reggae song, Hips Don't Lie.

But after recording China Wine, Kong said his wife felt really uncomfortable as it was not a natural fit for her and for an Asian to do reggae music.

With this and concerns about the escalating costs quoted by Wyclef, negotiations eventually broke down in 2008, Kong said.

For example, in 2008, Mr Herz said in an e-mail that an additional US$10 million (S$12.5 million) was required for "marketing costs", on top of the US$5 million that was already invested in Ho's album.

"In fact, later on, Lisa Ellis (Ho's US-based marketer) and Wyclef further increased their budget, which made me very, very uncomfortable. The net profit that they projected was also very high, but I just felt that they were asking too much," Kong said. So they then engaged another producer, Johnny Wright.

Ho's English album is yet to be released.

Kong said that he tried to drive a hard bargain and was always "conservative" when it came to the budgeting of Ho's expenses and revenue.

He maintained throughout yesterday's hearing that it was because the costs were paid by Xtron, which was Ho's artist manager from 2003 to 2008.

And as CHC had invested money in Xtron bonds, Kong said he worked hard to ensure that it would get its money back to redeem the bonds.

He said: "The church cannot lose a dollar of what it has invested into Xtron. All the investment must come back with interest.

"That was my motivation and that is why... I'm very vigilant... and I try to be rigorous with the budgeting."

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