City Harvest founder Kong Hee was the "ultimate authority" when it came to the financing of his wife Ho Yeow Sun's music career, alleged the prosecution yesterday.
Far from handling only the budget for his wife's planned American debut album, as he claimed, Kong made the decisions about "what money to spend, how much and where it would come from", said Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong.
In fact, Kong's budgeting approach to his wife's career was like a person who wants a Ferrari even when he cannot afford it, said DPP Ong. Kong disagreed and maintained that he had been responsible and reasonable.
Even when the 49-year-old senior pastor was not directly involved in Ms Ho's career, he closely supervised deputies, said DPP Ong, who produced a 2007 e-mail in which Kong berated fellow defendant and deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng for not ensuring that his wife's music events, part of a church Crossover Project meant to evangelise, were a success.
"How I wish I can run the whole show the way I run our church in the last 18 years!" said Kong in the e-mail, after listing all of the ways Tan had failed.
"But I can't... (My wife and I) are putting our lives and destiny at the hands of our disciples, our spiritual children... We hope you guys don't let us down," he said.
Kong, Tan and four others face various charges of misusing some $50 million of church funds to boost Ms Ho's career, and then to cover up the deed.
Several of the defendants, including Kong, allegedly cooked up sham deals for City Harvest to invest in, including bonds issued by Xtron Productions, which was Ms Ho's artist manager at one point.
Kong maintains that he had only a "general awareness" of how his wife's US foray was financed. But DPP Ong pointed to e-mail and messages between several defendants to try and show that Kong was kept fully abreast of Xtron's cash flow problems which would affect Ms Ho's career.
Following this, Kong approved ways to transfer more money from City Harvest to Xtron in the form of payments like higher retainer fees for services and, eventually, the bonds, said DPP Ong.
Xtron, in fact, was nothing more than a shell company where directors who were also church members rubber-stamped the defendants' decisions, he added, pointing to statements three of the accused gave to the Commercial Affairs Department (CAD).
Tan and former Xtron accountant Serina Wee had said Xtron directors were "updated" only after Tan, Kong and Wee made the decisions about Ms Ho's financing, although the defence said yesterday they had given different answers to the CAD at other times.
Former church investment manager Chew Eng Han added: "Technically, the directors of Xtron would be able to challenge the funding... (But) I think they would not because, to them, they are merely doing the right thing by giving their support... regardless of their lack of knowledge."
Kong strenuously disagreed with the prosecution's version of events. Approval from Xtron directors and City Harvest's management board was needed for any transactions between them, said Kong, adding that "update" meant seeking this approval.
While he admitted some of the church's transactions were triggered by the need to inject funds into Xtron, he said this did not mean the church suffered losses.
"I do not deny that in terms of dollars and cents, the church has less, but (it) benefited in other areas" such as receiving more services, he said. "The expenses are not willy-nilly; they have got to be for legitimate reasons."
Xtron could also use the money for the church's Crossover Project which uses his wife's secular career to evangelise, Kong said.
Deputy rapped over his handling of Ho's career
In 2007, City Harvest founder Kong Hee berated deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng in an e-mail for not doing more to make sure the music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun was a success.
Here are edited extracts which were shown in court as evidence of how closely Kong supervised his deputies in handling his wife's career.
Kong: Dear (Tan)... the Beijing and Shanghai events cost us so much money, and we had to fly so many people in. Buyers were supposed to come. At the end, who came? It was a joke!Time wasted. Efforts wasted. Objectives not met. Money thrown away unnecessarily. I don't get it, how have we become good stewards of money? We tried to save a few thousands on hotels and throw hundreds of thousands on result-less concerts. All these show me much about you: You are not critical enough in your thinking. You are too optimistic and hopeful of people when you shouldn't be. You are not asking enough questions about events you are sending Sun to. You need to be a greater discerner of people and things. You have the Holy Spirit, work with Him!
Tan: Dear Pastor, thank you for your e-mail and discipleship. I know I can do better in many areas. I will try not to let you and Sun down again. I am sorry and thank you once again, Pastor.
Kong: Dear Peng, each time I rebuke you, I am very aware that I might "crush" you. But if I don't allow you to fight in the trenches with me as a real "soldier", then I am just playing "games" with you. What's more, I can never develop you to become the man of destiny you have always dreamed to be since the day of your youth.
Tan: Dear Pastor, it is definitely not easy to do this task, but I am not "crushed"... I will try to make adjustments to be a better worker and hopefully won't disappoint you and Sun again.
About the case
City Harvest founder Kong Hee and five others face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing some $50 million of church funds.
The prosecution believes about half of the sum was funnelled through sham transactions to boost the pop music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun. The other half was then allegedly used to cover up the misdeeds.
The defence says that Ms Ho's secular music career was part of the church-approved Crossover Project, which aims to attract non-Christians through her songs and spread the Gospel among them.
This article was first published on August 21, 2014.
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