City Harvest trial: Church leaders tried to hide control over Xtron, says DPP

City Harvest trial: Church leaders tried to hide control over Xtron, says DPP

City Harvest founder Kong Hee and his fellow conspirators had sought to hide their control over Xtron Productions, the company which managed his wife's music career, according to Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong.

Mr Ong also said that they kept money flowing from City Harvest's coffers into Xtron, which then used it to finance Ms Ho Yeow Sun's attempt to become a pop success.

These were the points that the prosecutor tried to prove yesterday as he grilled the church founder for the third day in a row.

Growing exasperated at some points during the trial yesterday, Kong maintained that while the defendants had "some control and influence" over Xtron, the company's directors still had to approve transactions with the church.

Kong and five others face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing around $24 million of City Harvest funds to boost Ms Ho's career, then misusing another $26.6 million to cover it up.

Part of this was done through the church investing $13 million of its building fund in bonds issued by Xtron, which the prosecution has said is nothing more than a shell company, describing the transactions as "sham".

Xtron's directors, who were church members, were also "puppets" that took instructions from the accused.

The prosecutor yesterday pointed to e-mail correspondences in which defendants discussed how to hide their control of Xtron from auditors.

One e-mail was between former church investment manager Chew Eng Han, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng and former Xtron accountant Serina Wee. In it, they discussed how to present Xtron's profits at a church meeting.

"If anyone asks about the profit made (by Xtron), we will... say Xtron is under CHC control and therefore any profits will be well managed by us for future works," Chew said in the e-mail.

"Are we allowed to say that Xtron is under CHC control?" asked Tan.

Chew replied: "Not in such bold terms... We need to find a balance between what we tell our annual general meeting (they want full control), and what we tell our auditors (we don't want them to think we control Xtron)."

Chew added in the e-mail that auditors would have urged that the accounts for both church and Xtron be consolidated if they knew of such a close relationship.

Kong said yesterday that he would "prefer not to disclose that the church was investing in Xtron" so that Ms Ho would not be labelled as a gospel singer which would affect "the missions that we were doing in China".

But the 49-year-old senior pastor also said they had not tried to hide Xtron and the church's relationship from auditors.

He pointed to an e-mail in which auditor Foong Daw Ching had advised the defendants on the matter.

Mr Ong repeatedly told Kong that he was being inconsistent in his answers.

The pastor disagreed.

At one point, Kong addressed the judge and said: "Your Honour... when I answer too much, (the DPP) said that I'm jumping ahead of myself. If I answer too long, the DPP would say I'm being evasive. I'm just trying to answer the question as best as I can."

zengkun@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on August 22, 2014.
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