SINGAPORE - City Harvest Church (CHC) finance manager Sharon Tan came under intense cross-examination yesterday by the prosecution, who grilled her on her role in the alleged wrongdoing by church officials.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Mavis Chionh pointed to snippets of text conversations saved on Tan's BlackBerry device which alluded to fears that the auditor might uncover something he was not meant to.
Some time in 2009, Tan wrote to the church's fund manager, Chew Eng Han: "There may be a prob...The same Mr Sim is doing the XPL (Xtron Productions Limited) accounts. So he will know where the money is going to."
The auditor, Mr Sim Guan Seng, had oversight of the books for both the church and Xtron, one of the companies in which the church allegedly made sham investments so as to fund the music career of founder Kong Hee's wife, Sun Ho.
Tan, Chew, Kong and three others are accused of misusing some $50 million of church funds for the secular music career of Ms Ho, and then covering it up.
It is the prosecution's case that the church made sham investments in Xtron and Firna, a glassware company owned by a longtime church member, and then engaged in what the accounting industry calls "round-tripping" to hide the irregularities from auditors.
Asked why it was a "problem" that the auditor was looking at both books, Tan said she was concerned that the Crossover project, which was meant to use Ms Ho's pop music to evangelise to non-Christians, would be "revealed".
She disagreed, however, when Ms Chionh then asked whether she meant that she did not want Mr Sim to know where the money was going.
Tan maintained she was worried about "disclosure", but did not elaborate on what she meant by that.
DPP: So, if I understand your evidence correctly, what you are saying is that, in order to keep the Crossover Project as secular as possible, we have to be discreet about the fact that the Xtron bonds were drawn down for use on the Crossover Project. Is that correct?
Tan: Yes, Your Honour.
DPP: Let me try one more time. If Xtron is an independent commercial entity, then why would the fact that it has independently made a decision to use its bond proceeds on the Crossover Project make the Crossover Project not secular or less secular?
Tan: Your Honour, because the investment comes from the church.
Tan, who has been cross-examined on the stand for four days, also maintained that she was instructed by the church's board not to record Xtron's negotiations for securing premises for a place of worship in meeting minutes, as they were "sensitive", but was not able to say why they were sensitive.
She later conceded that the missing information should have been recorded.
In his 90-minute cross-examination, former finance manager Serina Wee's lawyer, Mr Andre Maniam, said the investments were planned by Chew, and that Tan and Wee were mere "facilitators.
She continues on the stand today.
This article was first published on September 23, 2014.
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