Church hit hard by leaders' fraud charges

PHOTO: The New Paper

City Harvest Church (CHC) operated under the umbrella of the Assemblies of God before becoming an independent society in Dec 1992.

It grew from a church of 20 followers to several hundred while operating out of Hollywood Theatre in Tanjong Katong Road in 1995.

Before the church leaders were charged, CHC had a 33,000-strong congregation.

Preaching the prosperity gospel, the church received millions in contributions.

In 2005, it was reportedly receiving $25.2 million in donations and had spent $21.6m on operations, administrative work, charity work, mission support and staff salaries.

In 2001, CHC spent $47.6 million on a church built on a 3,500 sq m plot of land, boasting world-class design and facilities at Jurong West Street 91.

Then in March 2010, CHC announced it was paying $310 million to become a co-owner of Suntec Singapore.

But concerns turned into police complaints alleging the misuse of church funds.

In May 2010, the Office of the Commissioner of Charities and the Commercial Affairs Department of the Singapore Police investigated more than 18 individuals, including founder Kong Hee and his wife Ms Ho Yeow Sun.

In June 2012, Kong and five others were hit with multiple charges of falsifying accounts of the church.

The controversies hit the church hard, the current congregation numbers around 18,000.

Ms Ho, the church's executive director, was also probed.

While the Commissioner of Charities removed the six convicted City Harvest Church leaders from their key positions, it had lifted Ms Ho's suspension from May 13, 2013, as there was "insufficient evidence against her".

Ms Ho remains executive director of CHC.

APOLOGISED

In a packed auditorium in Suntec Convention Centre yesterday, Kong bowed and apologised for the "pain and turmoil" members of his church had to endure over the last few years.

He was speaking at the church's first service since he and five other church leaders were found guilty on Wednesday.

He bowed three more times in different directions before the congregation stood and applauded and cheered for a good length of time, reported The Straits Times online.

Executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain later went on stage and said that while he was "saddened" by the verdict, he respected Judge See Kee Oon's decision.

He also described how the church would improve its governance as it moves forward with a new "CHC 2.0" vision.


This article was first published on October 25, 2015.
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