City Harvest trial: Lies and deceptions, alleges ex-treasurer

City Harvest trial: Lies and deceptions, alleges ex-treasurer
Former City Harvest treasurer Chew Eng Han (left) claims that attendance figures for church services were "grossly exaggerated", but Kong (right) denies this.

SINGAPORE - You defrauded donors by hiding how your wife took hundreds of thousands of dollars as her music royalties, bonuses and salary.

This was one of many accusations that former City Harvest treasurer Chew Eng Han threw at church founder Kong Hee in court on Tuesday.

The two former associates have known each other for more than a decade.

Now, Chew is trying to show that Kong was a liar and more deeply involved than he let on about the alleged misuse of around $50 million of the church's money, and was someone more interested in personal gain than in City Harvest's interests.

While cross-examining Kong, who was taking the stand, Chew told the court about a church account into which donors, including himself, had contributed.

The account was set up in 2006 to support Kong, 49, and his wife Ho Yeow Sun when they went off the church's payroll to do mission work, and to pay for expenses in the church's Crossover Project, which uses Ms Ho's music to evangelise.

But Chew alleged that the couple took out about $450,000 to $500,000 each year between 2007 and 2009 as Ms Ho's music artist salary, bonuses and royalties. In 2009, this led to a deficit of slightly more than $500,000. The next year, said Chew, Kong called a meeting of the donors. He told them how much more they could donate to make up the shortfall.

"We were quite troubled that our giving was not enough to support your ministry, so we decided to give more," the 54-year-old told Kong.

"But there was never actually a deficit in 2009. The deficit came after you stripped out royalties and salaries and bonuses that went to Sun."

Chew claimed that Kong never revealed to donors that hundreds and thousands of dollars were going to pay his wife. He asked Kong why.

The pastor, looking emotionally drained, replied: "I didn't have the chance to check with my wife if she wants to reveal her salaries and royalties, and we have a culture in City Harvest Church, as in many companies, of keeping our income as confidential as possible."

In return, Chew said flatly: "These are the givers that are closest to you, your greatest supporters...

"One of the reasons I left the church is because when I look at this, I realised that you deceived the people closest to you."

He added that this was just one of several "lies" from his former spiritual mentor. Chew claimed that attendance figures for City Harvest services had been "falsified" and "grossly exaggerated". He pointed to Blackberry messages by church members that suggested the actual attendance was around 12,000 a week, not 28,000 as Kong had claimed.

Kong denied this, saying the 12,000 figure referred to the tally of cell group church members and not the total attendance. "Cell group figures are usually about 60 per cent or even less of the church's final attendance, if you include walk-ins and visitors," said Kong.

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