Kong Hee defends 'rigorous' oversight

Kong Hee defends 'rigorous' oversight
City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee.

CITY Harvest Church founder Kong Hee insisted yesterday that he had done his best to make sure church funds borrowed to finance his wife Ho Yeow Sun's music career would be returned, and with interest.

This included replacing award-winning artist Wyclef Jean when he asked for too much money to guide the making of her debut American album.

Kong, along with five others, face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing about $50 million in church funds to boost Ms Ho's career, and then to cover up the deed.

City Harvest had indirectly financed Ms Ho's foray into the United States music scene by buying bonds issued by Xtron Productions, the company managing her career at the time.

The prosecution believes these and other bonds were shams to enable the misuse of church funds, and there was no "genuine consideration" among the defendants of whether the money could be returned.

When asked about this by his lawyer Edwin Tong, Kong said his "rigorous" oversight in the production of the album, part of a church-approved project to evangelise using Ms Ho's pop songs, was proof that that was not true.

"I did my level best to make sure that all of the money being put into the US album would come back," he told the court.

"Why? Because the church had invested its building fund in Xtron and I wanted to be sure the church suffered no loss."

After an American pastor suggested to him that Ms Ho's music would appeal to Americans, Jean, a three-time Grammy award winner, was hired in 2006 to help her.

He suggested that Ms Ho scrap the songs that she had already recorded as they sounded "too white, Caucasian" for her, Kong said yesterday.

Instead, Jean suggested a fusion of Asian music and reggae.

He had created a similar "Latino-reggae" sound for Colombian pop star Shakira, helping her break into the American market.

This led to Ms Ho's single, China Wine, which enjoyed some success on the dance charts.

But the music video attracted criticism for being risque.

Kong revealed yesterday that Ms Ho was "uncomfortable" with the new direction as it did not match the image she wanted.

Even though it worked for Shakira, he said, "we were concerned... because obviously, as Asians, we come from a more conservative background".

The partnership with Jean ended in 2008 over budget and profit-sharing disagreements, he said.

The album, which was targeted for a June 2010 release date, never materialised.

By then, investigations had begun into suspected financial irregularities at the church.

The Xtron bond money was eventually repaid and with interest, but the prosecution believes this was done through "round- tripping".

This means several of the defendants allegedly misused church funds to make it seem that Xtron had paid back what it owed.


This article was first published on August 13, 2014.
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