City Harvest trial resumes

Church founder Kong Hee (above) and the other five leaders are not expected to take the stand this time round.

SINGAPORE - Thehigh-profile criminal trial involving City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and five of his deputies will be a drawn-out affair that is set to continue until March next year.

Its second leg resumes on Monday, and is scheduled for about a month. The first leg took just two weeks in May, but the third will be the longest: from Jan 13 to March 7, with a one-week break in February.

State prosecutors will continue to trot out their witnesses in this second phase, with nine people lined up to be grilled.

First up is Mr Choong Kah Weng, current director of Xtron Productions, the company at the centre of the battle.

Six church leaders were charged last year with conspiring to cheat the megachurch of millions of dollars. They had allegedly misused $24 million of church funds to bankroll the music career of Kong's pop-singer wife Ho Yeow Sun, and purportedly taken another $26 million to cover up the first amount.

Xtron, a production house that used to manage Ms Ho's music career and was set up by two of the leaders, has been accused of acting as a conduit to divert church funds. These were then allegedly used to bankroll her singing ambitions.

Mr Wahju Hanafi, former Xtron director and owner of Firna and Ultimate Assets, will be next on the witness stand.

Firna, an Indonesian glassware firm, is also named as a company that the church leaders diverted money to.

Mr Wahju will be the key witness to watch. The Indonesian businessman and Singapore permanent resident is the co-owner of the Sentosa Cove penthouse where Kong and his family live. He has also given large sums of money to t h e church.

While none of the accused is expected to take the stand this time around, observers will be keeping a close eye on the relationship dynamics between Chew Eng Han and the other five church leaders, especially Kong.

Chew, a church stalwart and its appointed investment manager, quit abruptly in June, prompted by what he called "a collision of primarily spiritual and moral principles".

Others due to be questioned include the church's trustees - Mr Jeffrey Cheong, Mr Tan Yew Meng and Ms Susan Ong.

Four auditors from Baker Tilly are also on the witness list, including Mr Sim Guan Seng, who had raised repeated concerns about the money that was channelled to Xtron.

The church has started four prayer initiatives, "to involve the entire church in supporting the six leaders and their families spiritually", said a spokesman.

Meanwhile, it has once again been accused of soliciting donations for the leadership's legal fees.

A staff member has supposedly made a recording of Ms Ho reminding church staff to give to the legal fund, and presented it to the authorities.

The Commissioner of Charities' Office said it is looking into the matter.

Last year, it gave the church a warning after a donation form was circulated. It said neither the church nor its staff were allowed to get involved in raising funds for the accused's legal expenses.

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