He was a church leader not to be crossed. Even his own right-hand man found that out the hard way, according to e-mails presented to the court yesterday.
In the e-mails, City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee blasted deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng for simply going along with the "naive" and "ignorant" consultants who made singer Sun Ho's concerts in China "result-less".
He scolded Tan in the e-mail: "You are not critical enough in your thinking. You are too optimistic and hopeful of people when you shouldn't be.
"First time bad things happen, shame on you; the second time it happens again, shame on me!"
Kong's darker and harsher side was revealed by the prosecution yesterday during the trial in which he, Tan and four other CHC leaders are accused of misusing more than $50 million of church funds.
Some of this money was allegedly used to fund the music career of Ho, who is married to Kong, through two companies - music production firm Xtron and glass manufacturer Firna. (See report below.)
Yesterday, the prosecution continued its cross-examination of Kong, 49, who is the second accused to take the stand for the defence after former board member John Lam.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong presented the e-mail exchange from August 2007, between Kong and Tan.
Mr Ong had raised the e-mails to prove that Kong was "very hands-on" when it came to the running of the Crossover Project, fronted by Ho, to evangelise the unchurched. (See report below.)
In the first e-mail in the chain, Kong wrote at length to Tan of his disappointment following a concert tour in China.
For example, Kong questioned the $300 hotel suite where he and Sun had stayed in Hong Kong. He added the average price for a room in the city was $600.
"Do we really believe that we can pay peanuts and not get monkies (sic)," Kong wrote.
"Why didn't we check with the other people whom we know that are living in HK? Even if they have not heard of the hotel, at least we could have pin-pointed the neighborhood and realise that it is filled with nightclubs and bars!"
This was especially important to Kong because the team had arrived at midnight with "20 big bags" and "only one man around to help with the luggage".
Kong also chided Tan for the lack of fans during the concert in Guangzhou.
He added: "Talking about fans, every time we release an album, I have to think of a way to build a buzz among Sun's fan base.
"And every time, Wenling (who was a coordinator of the Crossover Project's fan club activities) is basically clueless on what to do." Kong also questioned the lack of media coverage - only two reporters with "nasty questions" had turned up - and why tickets were not issued to fans.
"The Beijing and Shanghai events cost us so much money, and we had to fly so many people in. How have we become good stewards of money? We tried to save a few thousands on hotels and throw hundreds of thousands on result-less concerts," Kong wrote.
Kong then told Tan of his flaws, such as not being "focused enough" and "not asking enough questions".
He added: "Sun and I are not nitpickers! How I wish I can run the whole show the way I run our church the last 18 years. But I can't. "My status and association with CHC make the whole project vulnerable to be scandalized.
"We are putting our lives and destiny at the hands of our disciples, our spiritual children."
Tan replied a few hours later and apologised.
Kong then told him: "Each time I rebuke you, I am very aware that I might 'crush' you.
"But if I don't allow you to fight in the trenches with me as a real 'soldier', then I am just playing 'games' with you."
He later added: "You will keep making mistakes. We all will. But let's pray that the mistakes will be less serious and fewer in between."
The trial continues today.
Prosecution: Kong has final say
You were the one with the ultimate authority.
That was the prosecution's assertion when cross-examining City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee yesterday.
Previously, Kong had maintained that the final approval and decisions on the financing of the Crossover Project were made by the CHC board or Xtron directors.
He had claimed that he was merely focusing on the missionary aspect of the CHC's Crossover Project and the budgeting for his wife Sun Ho's American album.
But yesterday, Deputy Public Prosecutor Christopher Ong sought to prove that Kong did not check with the CHC management board or Xtron directors before making decisions.
For example, sometime around 2002, Kong said he had signed a contract for Ho with recording company Decca.
He claimed he had the unofficial and informal support of the board then.
But when asked by Mr Ong whether he had written authorisation from the board, Kong said no.
Mr Ong also pointed out that the contract had to be ratified at a board meeting on a later date.
Said Kong: "I do not deny, because there is no documentation. But I disagree that I didn't have their approval for it, because I shared it openly in their presence. Nobody opposed to that."
Mr Ong presented e-mails showing that former CHC finance manager Serina Wee, who also provided accounting services to Xtron, had sent Kong documents on Xtron's finances.
He asked Kong: "Why is she keeping you so closely updated about the details of Xtron's transactions?"
Kong explained that the spreadsheet encompassed the finances of the US Crossover Project - the only aspect he focused on.
While Kong had claimed he always ran every major decision by them, Mr Ong pointed to the absence of the need to consult the Xtron directors and CHC board in various e-mails.
Said Mr Ong: "It is clear that you were the one with the ultimate authority when it came to ensuring that the Crossover Project was being financed and could be financed by Xtron."
Kong said he disagreed.
ABOUT THE CASE
City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and five others are on trial for allegedly misusing church funds through sham bonds.
This includes $24 million to fund the music career of Kong's wife Sun Ho and another $26.6 million to cover up the first amount.
They are said to have done this through music production firm Xtron and glass manufacturer Firna, which are run by long-time supporters of the megachurch.
Kong, former board member John Lam, finance manager Sharon Tan, ex-investment manager Chew Eng Han, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng and former finance manager Serina Wee face varying charges of criminal breach of trust and/or falsifying accounts.
Prosecutors had sought to show how Xtron and Firna directors had simply done the bidding of the accused.
The defence has argued that the transactions were legitimate, with the accused acting "in good faith" on the advice of lawyers and auditors.
This article was first published on August 21, 2014.
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