City Harvest trial: Full-scale probe by auditor, says defence

It was a reversal of roles in court on Thursday as defence lawyer Kannan Ramesh sought to show that City Harvest Church's investment in bonds had "significantly troubled" an auditor.

Despite her concerns, he said, auditor Tiang Yii from auditing firm Baker Tilly TFW must have been satisfied by her "full-scale investigation" since she signed off on her audit of Xtron Productions. Xtron was managing the pop music career of Ms Ho Yeow Sun, wife of church founder Kong Hee.

Ms Tiang's audit included the period when a bond agreement was signed between Xtron and City Harvest's fund manager, AMAC Capital Partners. Prosecutors believe the bonds issued by Xtron were shams, and the "investment"was a way to illegally finance Ms Ho's career.

Mr Ramesh referred to e-mail in which Ms Tiang had asked for documents to ensure the investments were proper use of church funds. Since she had made thorough checks and signed off on the audit, there must be no misuse of money, he suggested.

But Ms Tiang disagreed, saying the questions she asked were "standard" procedure, and she had only been satisfied that the transactions did not affect her Xtron audit.

She was not the auditor in charge of City Harvest for the period when the bonds would have shown up in its books. That was her colleague Sim Guan Seng, who had repeatedly raised concerns about the church monies going to Xtron.

Questioned by Deputy Public Prosecutor Mavis Chionh later, Ms Tiang said it would be hard for auditors to detect suspicious activity if a firm's management intentionally omitted or misstated information, or colluded with others to falsify documents.

She added that while several of the accused had sought former Baker Tilly managing partner Foong Daw Ching's advice, he may have given it in a personal capacity.

Shown an e-mail by DPP Chionh, in which deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng asked Ms Serina Wee, who handled Xtron's accounts, to arrange "like an off-the-record meeting" with Mr Foong, Ms Tiang said the words were an "alarm bell".

"It sounds like they are trying to find out a way to do something where they try to hide from the auditors."

zengkun@sph.com.sg


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.