Album launch delayed by illness and probe: City Harvest founder

THERE were big plans for the launch of Sun Ho's first album in America - from talk show appearances to spots on popular TV shows such as Gossip Girl, CSI and Dancing With The Stars.

Yet, "all the work we had put in, the money we had put in all these years, just went down the drain", said City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee yesterday.

His wife's album, which was supposed to extend the church's reach internationally and attract people to the Gospel through her secular pop music, is still to be launched almost a decade after work began on it.

Ms Ho Yeow Sun, whose stage name is Sun Ho, was hospitalised in March 2009 and had to undergo two operations for abdominal adhesion, said Kong on his fourth day on the stand.

"She was in critical condition and the whole schedule (for her album) was thrown off," said the 49-year-old, who is facing three charges of criminal breach of trust in relation to allegedly misusing the church's money to fund his wife's career.

She eventually recovered and a new launch date was set for August 2010, with a major marketing campaign to begin in June in the same year, Kong said. But investigations for the ongoing trial started in May that year.

Ms Ho had to return to Singapore to assist in investigations.

City Harvest had financed the United States foray by buying bonds issued by Xtron Productions, the firm managing Ms Ho's career at the time. But the prosecution believes Xtron is a shell company controlled by the defendants through puppet directors.

Kong admitted yesterday that there was a close, symbiotic relationship between the church and Xtron, which had church members as its directors. This includes Xtron offering the church "better than market rates" for various services.

But despite this, the two were independent of each other, he said. "Xtron directors... apply their independent thinking to see how they can best serve the needs of the church while existing as a separate company."

Kong also pressed the point that while he was aware of the various transactions which the prosecution has labelled as shams, he was in America most of the time to keep tabs on the budget for his wife's album.

So he left the details of transactions to others in the church, such as former church investment manager Chew Eng Han and deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, two of the six accused in this case.

Kong, who also told the court that he relied on lawyers and auditors to vet the deals, said: "I would have asked Chew and Tan half a dozen times whether (the Xtron bonds) were legal."

Kong Hee's key points

CITY Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee and five others face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing around $50 million of church funds to boost Ms Ho Yeow Sun's music career and then to cover it up.

The trial is expected to heat up today when the church's former investment manager, Chew Eng Han, who is representing himself, cross-examines Kong.

Since taking the stand on Monday, Kong has been answering questions set by his lawyer, Mr Edwin Tong. Here are some of the key points he made over the four days:


Kong insisted that he and the other defendants had repeatedly sought and received assurance from lawyers and auditors that transactions at the heart of the trial were all above board.

Pointing to meetings set up with auditor Foong Daw Ching, Kong said: "If I have committed fraud, corruption and forgery, why would I want to see him?"


Kong said he put the church's interest before the project to launch his wife's music career in the United States.

"If Sun (Ho) was able to succeed in the US, then... every continent would be open to her and... to CHC's missions," he said.

But he ensured costs were kept manageable. "The church has invested its building fund (in the album)... and I wanted to be sure the church will suffer no loss..."


Kong said church members supported the project to use Ms Ho's pop music career as an evangelical tool.

"In 2004, we had a service at the Indoor Stadium, and the entire congregation, about 10,000, prayed for Sun and blessed her as she embarked on her crossover into the US."


Ms Ho's China Wine single enjoyed chart success but some criticised it for being risque.

Kong admitted he and his wife were uncomfortable when Grammy-winning artist Wyclef Jean switched her to a fusion of Asian music and reggae because her previous songs sounded too "white".

This article was first published on August 15, 2014.
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