City Harvest Church Leaders' Trial: 'We work like a family in our church"

City Harvest Church Leaders' Trial: 'We work like a family in our church"
Sharon Tan.

When she was asked by Serina Wee to take over as the church's finance manager, Sharon Tan was hesitant.

She claimed that she lacked the confidence and technical knowledge for the role then.

Indeed, much of her accounting knowledge had been picked up on the job as an accountant with City Harvest Church (CHC) and she felt she was not competent enough. But Tan, 39, eventually agreed as Wee assured her that she would continue to guide and advise her, Tan told the court yesterday. Wee, Tan, CHC founder Kong Hee and three others are on trial for misusing more than $50 million of church funds.

Some of this money was allegedly used to fund the music career of Sun Ho through "sham bonds" invested in two companies.

Tan took the stand for the first time yesterday. She is the third accused to testify for the defence after former CHC board member John Lam and Kong, who was on the stand for a month.

QUALIFICATIONS

Yesterday, Tan told the court that she earned her bachelor's in business (accountancy) from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology at the Singapore Institute of Management while working part-time.

She added that many of her accounting modules were "Australian-based".

So when she was offered the post at CHC as an accounts assistant some time in 1999 or 2000, she said she had to rely on the advice and guidance of others, especially her then-boss, Wee. Tan had worked her way up in the CHC accounts department - she was promoted to senior accountant - before Wee approached her to take over as finance manager in 2007. "I told her I was not very confident... (and) still had a lot to learn," Tan recounted. "I didn't know if I was able to take over the responsibilities she had."

But she said Wee assured her that she would continue to guide and advise her.

Tan said: "In our church, we work like a family. Even after she (Wee) resigned... I would go to her for technical advice in terms of accounts." Tan had also checked with Lam when it came to "accounting standards", she revealed.

She added that she "knew nothing about bonds" until former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han taught her that "bonds were like loans" in 2007. To her, Chew was an investment expert and a trustworthy professional.

When it came to the purchase of the Riverwalk property by the church for worship purposes, Tan said she was "assured" by Wee and Chew that it would be a good investment. Throughout yesterday's hearing, Tan's lawyer, Senior Counsel Kannan Ramesh, asked her about her impression of CHC's transactions based on documents and e-mails that were presented to the court.

Tan said she "drew comfort" that the church was making good investments based on what Chew, Wee and others had said. Tan told the court that she joined CHC as a follower in 1990 when she was 15 after being invited by a friend to a service.

That was when she first heard Kong preach. He gave "a very good message", she said. That was when she decided to accept the religion.

Tan also spoke highly of Kong and described him as a "man of integrity" who brought the "church from one level to another".

She said:"I learnt from him that the church was 'not just within four walls'. When he said that, he was not just talking the talk. He loves the church a lot... (he) would never do anything to harm the church."

The trial continues on Monday.


This article was first published on September 13, 2014.
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