Kong Hee 'was looking for money to back wife'

SINGAPORE - "Let's plan as if the sky is the limit and then work out how we are going to get the funds," City Harvest founder Kong Hee said in 2005 of launching his wife Ho Yeow Sun's pop music career in the US.

He was replying in an e-mail to American music producer Justin Herz.

The two had earlier discussed whether to do a US$1.5 million "top-class album and promotion" for Ms Ho or to stick to a US$400,000 budget.

On Wednesday, prosecutors produced this e-mail to try to refute a claim by its witness, Indonesian businessman and church member Wahju Hanafi, that his former firm, Xtron Productions, which managed Ms Ho, did not simply pour money into the endeavour as if it was a "bottomless pit".

They also pointed to other e-mail messages Kong had written to try and show that contrary to his lawyer's claims, he was intimately involved in looking for money for his wife's career.

But Mr Hanafi fingered former church investment manager Chew Eng Han instead, saying he was the financial mastermind behind the US project.

Kong and five of his deputies were charged last year with misusing about $50 million in church funds to bankroll Ms Ho's career and to cover this up.

Earlier this week, Kong's lawyer Edwin Tong sought to show that the megachurch founder had his hands only in the vision but not the financing of the Crossover Project, which uses Ms Ho's secular music to evangelise.

When asked on Wednesday who was really involved in financing the project, Mr Hanafi said: "The key person is really Eng Han."

He added that the others were just helping with the administration of the budget, although he was also involved in the financing too.

But prosecutors pointed to a set of e-mail from 2008 in which Kong discussed with his fellow accused Chew, Tan Ye Peng and Serina Wee how to raise money for the project.

After Kong asked "How much more can we raise for the US project?", Wee set out various cashflows that could finance it.

Wee, the church's former finance manager, was also more involved in financial decisions than argued by her lawyer, said prosecutors.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Tan Kiat Pheng referred to several more e-mail in which Wee gave specific instructions to Mr Hanafi on transfers between various bank accounts for the project.

But Mr Hanafi said she did not deal directly with banks nor made financial decisions.

"There is no direct e-mail between Serina and the banks, it is just her giving instructions to me, so it sounds to me (to be) more administrative."

Wednesday also saw the introduction of a new witness after more than a week. Auditor Foong Daw Ching took over from Mr Hanafi as the prosecution's ninth witness.

Mr Foong is a partner with Baker Tilly TFW. The firm or one of its associated companies had been responsible for auditing the accounts of Xtron and the church.

He told the court he had served on a committee of the Government's Accounting Standards Council which formulated accounting standards for charities.

He testified that he has known Kong since 1993 when he was engaged for an audit, and described his relationship with Kong as "one of mutual respect".

Mr Foong, a Church of Singapore elder, met Kong at several inter-church functions; he also received church updates via text messages from Kong, and consulted on Kong's personal tax matters.

He would continue to testify on last Thursday.

zengkun@sph.com.sg

twong@sph.com.sg

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