City Harvest trial: Church board backed Ho Yeow Sun's music career, says accused

City Harvest trial: Church board backed Ho Yeow Sun's music career, says accused
City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee (right) arrives at the State Courts on July 14, 2014.

SINGAPORE - The accused, former church board member John Lam Leng Hung, said the church had decided to reach out to young "unchurched" people through Ms Ho's music as it saw the entertainment industry "held sway" over them. The board members also agreed that the church's backing of Ms Ho should be discreet so that the young people would not dismiss her music as "yet another church-sponsored project".


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Prosecutors close their case in City Harvest trial

David Ee
The Straits Times
Thursday, Feb 13, 2014

SINGAPORE - Prosecutors closed their case in the City Harvest Church trial on Monday, after calling in 14 witnesses in nine months.

They continued to seek to show, in one of their central arguments, that two firms linked to the church were just puppets for alleged sham transactions.

The church's audit manager Foong Ai Fang, who works for Baker Tilly, was shown e-mails between church leaders discussing how to explain funds transferred to Xtron Productions during an audit for the music company.

Ms Foong, the prosecution's final witness, was also Xtron's auditor and told the court she "could see no reason" why City Harvest leaders should be consulted as they had no connection to Xtron.

Six church leaders including founder and senior pastor Kong Hee are accused of funnelling $24 million meant for the church's building fund into alleged sham bond investments in church- linked firms Firna and Xtron between 2007 and 2009. They allegedly tried to cover this up by falsifying church accounts to avoid scrutiny by their auditors. The money, prosecutors say, was used to finance the pop music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun.

The others accused are the church's deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 41; its former treasurer Chew Eng Han, 53; former board member John Lam, 45; former finance manager Serina Wee, 37; and its present finance manager Sharon Tan, 38.

Since last May, prosecutors have sought to detail how Firna and Xtron directors had simply done the accused's bidding and rubber-stamped the deals.

For instance, a series of e-mails between Wee, Chew and Tan Ye Peng produced as evidence last August stated that Xtron was under the church's control, they argued.

Prosecutors also claimed that Sharon Tan and Chew had unilaterally decided on interest rates for one of the bond investments, forcing church accountants to work their sums "backwards" for the accounts to tally. Baker Tilly managing partner Sim Guan Seng had also repeatedly raised concerns over the accounts to the church, they alleged.

Meanwhile, the defence has tried to show that the accused acted "in good faith" based on the advice of their auditors, including Baker Tilly assurance partner Tiang Yii and former managing partner Foong Daw Ching.

The three legs of the trial to date have revealed some other details about the church's spending, such as Ms Ho receiving more than half a million in bonuses and advances, takings that church leaders allegedly disguised as "personal gifts" from sponsors. Her pop music career was part of the church's Crossover Project, which started in 2002 with the aim of using secular music to evangelise.

The church's congregation, which gathers at its Suntec City and Jurong West services, now stands at about 20,000 - down from a high of 33,000 four years ago.

The trial will continue on July 14 with defence witnesses taking the stand. A spokesman for the church said the defence has yet to finalise its witness list.

Before that, defence lawyers will be filing for charges against their clients to be dropped. They will make these written submissions by March 10. The court will reconvene on April 8 to debate this, if deemed necessary.

Criminal breach of trust is punishable with a life sentence, or up to 20 years' jail and a fine. Falsification of accounts carries up to 10 years in jail, a fine, or both.

davidee@sph.com.sg

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