Ex-treasurer grills church founder

It was like watching a break-up between two long- time buddies.

Former City Harvest treasurer Chew Eng Han recounted in court yesterday how he stuck by the church's founder Kong Hee in his time of need, after a member complained that funds were being used to bankroll the secular music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun.

Now that both men are facing charges over the misuse of around $50 million of the church's money, he asked the pastor why he was now saying he had limited knowledge of the way the church funded his wife's career.

"As originator of the Crossover Project, senior pastor of City Harvest Church and a man of God, wouldn't it be responsible and right for you to take responsibility as the key decision-maker for the financing of the project?" Chew, who is representing himself, asked Kong. The 49-year-old, who has been on the stand all this week, answered: "I wish I could do everything and be a Superman... But the church is so big. It is very difficult for one man to make all the decisions."

Kong, Chew and four others face various charges for their part in allegedly misusing some $50 million in church funds to boost Ms Ho's pop career, and then to cover up the deed.

Kong has testified that while he did oversee the budget for Ms Ho's American album, part of the Crossover Project's aim to evangelise through her secular music, he left the details on how the money was raised and channelled to others, including Chew.

But the church's former treasurer alleged yesterday that Kong knew more than he was letting on. He told the court how he advised the pastor to be upfront about how his church was funding the project.

Instead, Kong pushed for secrecy, he said. This eventually led to the use of church-linked Xtron Productions in 2003 to manage Ms Ho's career. The church then bought bonds in the company, which the prosecution allege was a shell to enable the misuse of the church's money.

Chew added how the pastor had said during a church meeting in 2007 that City Harvest's investments should be "kept at the top, top confidentiality level". He also tried to show how another defendant, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, was the one who suggested lending part of the church's building fund to Xtron to finance the Crossover Project.

He showed the court an e-mail in which Tan had suggested a plan for City Harvest to lend $2.5 million of its building fund to Xtron. The e-mail was dated two months before Xtron issued its bonds.

The prosecution believes the bond issue was a sham to hide the illegal use of church funds for the project.

This article was first published on August 16, 2014.
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