City Harvest trial: Witness pleads lapse of memory

City Harvest trial: Witness pleads lapse of memory
Mr Foong was cross-examined in court about the advice he gave church leaders accused of misusing funds.

SINGAPORE - After six days of prodding in court, City Harvest Church (CHC) adviser Foong Daw Ching finally admitted telling the six church leaders accused of misusing funds that they had done nothing legally wrong - but only after they were charged last year.

The church leaders had claimed that the 63-year-old auditor had offered them similar advice on previous occasions as well. However, Mr Foong kept repeating that he could not remember what he said.

He was testifying in the widely watched CHC trial, in which church founder Kong Hee and five of his deputies are charged with investing in sham bonds to finance the pop music career of Kong's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun.

Defence lawyers insist they had long relied "in good faith" on the advice given by "Bro Foong" regarding the legality of the transactions in question, and that he had given them the green light.

For instance, in July 2008, when the long-time head of Ren Ci Hospital, Shi Ming Yi, was charged for fraud and faking the charity's accounts, the church leaders got worried and turned to Mr Foong, a partner at accounting firm Baker Tilly TFW, which had audited the church since 1993.

They wanted advice on the church's 2007 investment in $13 million worth of bonds issued by artiste management company Xtron Productions.

The defence on Wednesday produced a text message from Kong to Mr Foong dated July 19, 2008, which said: "My church board is very troubled by the recent case with the Ren Ci monk."

He asked whether Mr Foong could meet Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee - two of the accused - "as they are very troubled over two areas in our corporate governance and accounting".

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