CHC trial: Auditor knew Building Fund was used to buy bonds

City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee with his lawyer Jason Chan (left) outside the Subordinate Courts on 14 January 2014.

SINGAPORE  - Defence counsel N Sreenivasan, who represents City Harvest Church (CHC) deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, tore into the prosecution's witness yesterday, accusing her of changing his questions, playing games, and being inattentive and a bad witness.

But Tiang Yii, assurance partner at Baker Tilly TFW, held up under the brutal cross-examination, answering in a clear and consistent manner.

Ms Tiang was giving evidence about her time as the audit engagement partner for CHC (between January 2006 and June 2007) and for Xtron (FY2006 and FY2007).

Xtron is a production house and artiste management company set up by CHC members.

It managed the career of Sun Ho, CHC founder and senior pastor Kong Hee's wife, between June 2003 and July 2008.

Xtron issued $13 million in bonds to AMAC Capital Partners, a business run by former CHC board member Chew Eng Han; CHC was said to be the beneficial owner of these bonds.

It is the prosecution's case that senior members of the church misappropriated funds meant for CHC's Building Fund to pay for these bonds - which went towards paying for Ms Ho's music career - and then sought to cover this up with a series of roundtripping transactions.

Senior Counsel Sreenivasan, who sought to show that the external auditors were well aware of what the funds were used for and that everything was above board, put Ms Tiang through the wringer.

He accused Ms Tiang of "changing (his) questions", when he felt she was not answering him directly, and told her that he did not "want to play games with (her)".

At one stage, he insinuated that, based on Ms Tiang's evidence so far, "if you don't talk to (members of Xtron's board, during her time as the audit engagement partner) at all, if you treat (CHC member) Serina Wee (who prepared Xtron's accounts) as a representative of the board, that's a horrible way to do an audit, don't you agree?"

His accusations drew multiple objections from Deputy Public Prosecutor Mavis Chionh, who said he should leave them for his submissions.

Ms Chionh also implored the court: "If Mr Sreenivasan would allow the witness to answer, instead of interrupting her . . ."

Chief District Judge See Kee Oon then told Mr Sreenivasan: "Tell her perhaps more calmly. She can also answer calmly."

Theatrics aside, Mr Sreenivasan did succeed in having Ms Tiang testify that she was aware that CHC had used its Building Fund monies to buy the Xtron bonds and that this was in line with the church's constitution.

"As an auditor, you know that if (the Building Fund is) a restricted fund, any use must be for the purposes specified, am I right?" he asked.

"Correct," replied Ms Tiang.

"And you would have raised an alarm bell if it was for an unauthorised purpose, am I right?"

"Yes, I would."

"And you looked at the (church's) constitution yourself as well, right?"

"Yes."

"If the auditors knew that Xtron used the money for Sun Ho's music albums, and the board knows that the auditors know that, and the auditors don't raise any issue about it, do you agree the board can assume that the auditors have found nothing wrong with that?"

"Yes," she agreed.

Ms Tiang also testified that she was distancing her audit of CHC and Xtron from the actions of Baker Tilly TFW's former managing partner Foong Daw Ching.

Mr Foong had testified in the previous tranche of hearings last September, and is known for being the auditor who made a public video saying that no CHC funds were ever used in the promotion of Ms Ho's music career.

The prosecution sought to establish on Monday that Mr Foong had been aware of the concerns that the CHC members had about Xtron's ability to redeem its bonds, but that these had been kept from the audit engagement partner.

Kong, Tan, Chew and Wee, along with board member John Lam and finance manager Sharon Tan, stand accused of criminal breach of trust; Chew, Wee and the two Tans have also been charged with conspiring to falsify accounts.

The hearing continues.


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