City Harvest trial: A 'perception of separation'

City Harvest trial: A 'perception of separation'
City harvest church trial continues.

Serina Wee had a vision to further her career and wanted to set up her own accounting firm. So City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee claimed he let her go even though her accounting services were important to the church and music production firm Xtron.

But the prosecution yesterday asserted that her firm, Advante Consulting, was merely meant to create a "perception of separation" between CHC and Xtron. Advante manages the accounts of Xtron Productions.

And it was to hide the fact that the megachurch was channelling its building fund to Xtron for its Crossover Project, said the prosecution.

Kong, Wee and four other CHC leaders are accused of misusing more than $50 million of church funds.

Some of this money was allegedly used to fund the music career of Kong's wife Sun Ho through "sham bonds" invested into two companies - Xtron and glass manufacturer Firna.

Yesterday, the prosecution sought to prove that Kong, 49, had control over Xtron, which it has said is a "shell company". Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong pointed out during the cross-examination that one of the ways the accused tried to distance CHC from Xtron was through the establishment of Wee's firm, Advante.

Mr Ong presented an e-mail sent in November 2007 by Wee, who had asked CHC deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng whether it was "good for my name to be appearing since I'm no longer staff" as Kong had continued to send her e-mails regarding the church's finance matters.

Kong claimed he was overseas then and "it didn't dawn upon me or register in my mind that she really had left the church's payroll".

But Mr Ong asserted that Wee was still holding key roles in the church and Xtron: "Advante was required... because if Serina were known to be handling both the church... and Xtron accounts, it would have made it clear that the two ... were related." Kong disagreed.

Mr Ong also presented various e-mails regarding Kong's input on the staff benefits that should be paid to Xtron's employees.

For example, Kong asked Tan Ye Peng and Wee in November 2006 how Xtron and two other organisations were to pay the "1.2-month bonus above their 13th month bonus" to their staff.

In another e-mail, Kong was asked by CHC finance manager Sharon Tan to give the "final confirmation" on the salaries of all the staff in the entities, including Advante, that were linked to the megachurch.

Kong explained that it was an exercise to check if the church had the "ability to absorb" its former staff, should all the CHC-linked organisations fail.

But Mr Ong said: "All these e-mails show that your control of Xtron and even Advante extended to deciding issues of salary and manpower issues."

Kong disagreed.

Mr Ong also presented a copy of Xtron's meeting minutes that listed Kong as an "invisible" member of the firm's management.

Kong said it was because he was helping the firm with the liaising and negotiations of Ho's English album in the US.

Invisible

"Very often in our church, I'm like the invisible patron of many of the organisations because of their love and honour for me as their pastor," he said.

Mr Ong pointed out that CHC board member Suraj - who goes by one name - was also listed as a "ghost director".

Earlier, Mr Ong had sought to prove that it was Kong who had given instructions for Mr Suraj to be involved with Xtron.

But Kong said that Mr Suraj had been asked by his "best friend", Xtron director Choong Kar Weng, to help out with the firm.

"I knew that he (Mr Suraj) was mentoring some of the Xtron staff because they were formally his staff. But that's the extent of my knowledge as far as Suraj's role in Xtron. I didn't know he's a ghost director," he said.

Kong added he eventually decided Mr Suraj would remain on the CHC board after "a serious consideration" for him to leave in 2008.

Yesterday's hearing took place in front of a packed courtroom. The New Paper understands some members of the public arrived at court and queued for tickets as early as 6am.

The prosecution will continue its cross-examination of Kong when the trial resumes on Monday.

rloh@sph.com.sg

This article was published on Aug 23 in The New Paper.

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