Fund misuse complaint traumatised church leaders

SINGAPORE - All he did was plug the gaps - just as he was told - on an ad-hoc basis.

So claimed former City Harvest Church (CHC) board member John Lam Leng Hung as the trial against him and five others from the mega church resumed yesterday.

Six church leaders, including CHC founder Kong Hee, are accused of misusing more than $50 million of church money through sham bonds.

Some of this money was allegedly used to fund the music career of Kong's wife, pop singer Sun Ho.

But on Monday, Lam's lawyer, Mr Kenneth Tan, moved to distance his client from "prosecution's case ... that Mr John Lam was part of a plan, an unholy design, to dishonestly misuse church funds to personally benefit Sun Ho".

Mr Tan said in his opening statement that all Lam did was attend meetings and suddenly be asked to look at e-mails. Lam, 46, is an accountant who was a church volunteer.

"There are these plans which he was not part of.

He's only there on an ad-hoc basis. "(Mostly) it was consolidation and impairment, and it was from that context alone that he had information in relation to the investments," said the lawyer.

Lam told the court that one of the accused, Chew Eng Han, had sat him down in June 2007 and informed him of his decision to quit his job and the board.

Chew would take on a new role as the church's fund manager.

'SURPRISED'

Lam added that Chew also shared his plans to invest the church's "surplus funds" into Xtron bonds.

Xtron was the company that managed Ho's singing career.

As Chew was then a valuable board member, Lam said he was surprised by the decision, but accepted the idea in the end.

Lam, who was on the CHC investment committee from 2006 till 2008, also denied any involvement with Amac Capital Partners, an investment management firm owned by Chew.

His lawyer told the court that the church needed to be discreet in supporting Ho's singing career, which was meant to reach out to young adults as the church leaders felt the entertainment industry "held sway" over the young.

This came after former church-goer Roland Poon flagged concerns about the misuse of church funds, prompting a special audit helmed by churchgoer and then audit firm Baker Tilly managing partner Foong Daw Ching.

The incident, however, left the church leaders traumatised, said Lam.

"It's not just only the public but I saw for myself, even Christians from other churches, couldn't understand how can a church be supporting what is to them a secular project about trying to make Sun (Ho) a success in entertainment in the pop industry.

"So we knew that if this project were to continue, (it) cannot be seen that the church is actively behind supporting Sun," he said.

And that was why dealings with Xtron were kept as discreet as possible and the name of the company was even omitted from the minutes of a board meeting in May 2003, he said.

ABOUT THE CASE

City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee and five others are on trial for allegedly misusing more than $50 million of church funds through sham bonds.

This includes $24 million to fund Kong's pop singer-wife Sun Ho's music career, and another $26.6 million to cover up the first amount. The six face varying charges for criminal breach of trust (CBT) and/or falsifying accounts.

Those found guilty of committing CBT can be jailed for life or a maximum of 20 years and fined on each charge.

Those found guilty of falsifying accounts can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined on each charge.

The six are:

Kong Hee

  • Facing three counts of CBT
  • Founded CHC in 1989; now a senior pastor there
  • President of church management board from 1992 to 2011
  • Represented by lawyer and Member of Parliament for Moulmein-Kallang GRC, Mr Edwin Tong.

Tan Ye Peng

  • Facing six counts of CBT and four of falsifying accounts
  • Deputy senior pastor at CHC
  • Appointed to church board in 1995, elected vice-president in 2007; on church finance committee from July 2006 to June 2007 Founder of City Care, a social enterprise related to the church
  • Represented by Senior Counsel (SC) N Sreenivasan

Chew Eng Han

  • Facing six counts of CBT and four of falsifying accounts
  • A church stalwart who served as vice-president and treasurer
  • Key person behind City Harvest's move to Suntec in 2005
  • Sole director of investment firm AMAC Capital Partners, which transacted with the church
  • Left the church in June 2013 in an acrimonious split prompted by "a collision of primarily spiritual and moral principles" Will represent himself after discharging SC Michael Khoo this year

John Lam Leng Hung

  • Facing three counts of CBT
  • Church board member since 1993; has served as treasurer and secretary, and sits on audit committee A former director of Xtron
  • Represented by SC Kenneth Tan

Serina Wee Gek Yin

  • Facing six counts of CBT and four of falsifying accounts
  • Former finance manager of the church, until August 2007
  • Administrator of the Crossover Project, which promotes the secular pop music of Madam Ho
  • Represented by SC Andre Maniam

Sharon Tan Shao Yuen

  • Facing three counts of CBT and four of falsifying accounts
  • Succeeded Wee as finance manager of the church
  • Represented by SC Kannan Ramesh

This article was first published on July 15, 2014. Get The New Paper for more stories.