City Harvest trial: DPP on Xtron's 'invisible manager', 'ghost director'

City Harvest trial: DPP on Xtron's 'invisible manager', 'ghost director'

XTRON and Advante - these were firms that were supposed to be independent from City Harvest Church. But that did not stop church founder Kong Hee from pulling strings, by making key decisions on salaries, bonuses and even who should manage them, said Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong yesterday, pointing to a series of documents to bolster his point.

It was this control that allowed Kong and several other defendants to illegally funnel church funds into Xtron Productions, his wife Ho Yeow Sun's artist manager, which then used the money to fund her secular music career, he said.

Through yesterday's cross-examination, Kong kept denying that he had a lot of influence on Xtron and Advante, which provided accounting services to Xtron.

Yet Mr Ong produced the minutes of a 2008 Xtron meeting, in which Kong was listed as the firm's "invisible" manager. Another church employee, Suraj, was given the title of Xtron's "ghost director".

Kong said he was often regarded as "the invisible patron" of church-linked organisations because of their members' "love and honour" for him, although he did not know if that was the case for Xtron. He added that Suraj could have been placed at Xtron to protect City Harvest's interests since the church was Xtron's major client.

Mr Ong went on to show the court an e-mail to Kong in which he was asked for "final confirmation" about proposed bonuses for Xtron and Advante staff. But Kong said he was merely giving advice out of "pastoral concern" since the employees at these firms had come from City Harvest. He said: "At the end of the day, the respective directors of all those entities have to decide for themselves. I can only propose. They make the final decisions."

In a 2010 e-mail, Kong had gone as far as to instruct church finance manager and fellow defendant Sharon Tan to ensure the combined salaries of employees at all church-linked companies, including Xtron and Advante, did not exceed 32.7 per cent of the firms' total income. The instruction was part of a "scenario-planning" exercise to make sure the church could afford to rehire the employees if there was a "cataclysmic, catastrophic situation" and all the firms folded, he said.

Mr Ong accused Kong of lying repeatedly. He said: "Mr Kong, I put to you, your explanations to these e-mail concerning salaries, bonuses, Xtron's reimbursement and insurance policies and now the aggregate salary percentage for these organisations - all these explanations are fabrications."

Kong and five others face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing some $50 million of church funds to bankroll Ms Ho's music career, and then to cover up the deed.

In 2007, a year before the Xtron meeting, City Harvest had invested $13 million in Xtron bonds, which the prosecution says were "shams" to misuse the church's building fund for Ms Ho's secular music.

Kong admitted yesterday that he had kept the bond purchase from church members during a 2008 general meeting of the executive members. But he said this was to "protect the church", since information given to the members "very quickly goes into the public domain".

If the public knew that Ms Ho's career was being financed by the church, Kong has said previously, she would be labelled as a gospel singer, affecting the church's mission work in countries like China that frowned on public preaching.

He insisted yesterday that even if the financing had been revealed then, church members would have "gladly supported it".

This article was first published on August 23, 2014.
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