Messages show City Harvest leaders scrambling to 'plug' hole

SINGAPORE - A SERIES of BlackBerry messages and e-mails dated March 30, 2010 were produced in court on Thursday, showing how City Harvest Church leaders had scrambled to "plug" a financial hole before an extraordinary general meeting three weeks later.

It is not clear what caused the scramble. But earlier in the trial, prosecutors showed that in 2009, the church's external auditor Sim Guan Seng had raised concerns about the millions which had been channelled to church-linked companies, Xtron Productions and AMAC Capital Partners.

The series of messages on March 30 started with a message from church founder Kong Hee (in photo above).

7.30am: Kong sends a BlackBerry message to executive pastor Aries Zulkarnian and AMAC director Chew Eng Han, one of the accused. "Dear guys, if we have an EOGM on April 18, do we have time to plug the hole?"

9.02am: Chew replies: "It is too tight if we want the actual funds to have been paid."

9.03am: Kong replies: "Eng Han, when is the soonest possible?"

9.55am: Chew replies: "Pastor, I am thinking of another way, which may work better and make more sense... will revert by today okay?"

Minutes later, Chew asked accountant Serina Wee, one of the accused, for details on when Indonesian businessman Wahju Hanafi, had stepped down as director of Xtron.

He also asked her if Mr Hanafi had issued a personal guarantee for the bonds issued by Xtron during his time there.

Before 6pm, Wee sent an e-mail to Chew with two personal guarantees attached.

She wrote: "I tried my best but it is really a very technical document. Can you please help to read through and edit as necessary. I dated both Aug 15, 2007 before we first drew down $7 million bonds in 2007."

One of the guarantees was for Mr Hanafi to sign and indemnify Xtron from losses.

The state believes the bonds in Xtron, which managed the music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun from 2003 to 2008, were a sham.

Instead, the $13 million that the church invested in them were funnelled into supporting Ms Ho's singing career, it is alleged.

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$11 million 'routed through several firms'

When City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee (in photo above) and his deputies wanted back the $11 million that the church invested in Firna bonds, the company owner said he did not have the money.

So they allegedly took about $11 million from the church's own investment manager AMAC Capital Partners, routed it through several companies, then put it back into CHC's coffers.

This gave the illusion that the church's bonds in Firna had been repaid, the prosecution alleged on Thursday, in what could prove to be a pivotal moment in the widely watched criminal case against Kong and five of his deputies.

They are accused of conspiring to cheat the mega-church of $50 million partly through sham bonds issued by Firna and Xtron Productions. The money was allegedly used to finance the music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun and to cover up its misuse.

To back this up, the state on Thursday produced an e-mail from one of the accused, accountant Serina Wee, to Mr Wahju Hanafi, a long-time church member and owner of glassware manufacturer Firna.

In it, Wee outlined how AMAC would finance Firna's repayment of the church's bond money. She even detailed how the money would move from one company to another, and the dates on which the transactions would be done.

Asked whether these transactions had been carried out according to the timeline, Mr Hanafi told the court: "I think it's almost there."

The 53-year-old Indonesian businessman added that the "flow of funds" had been arranged by AMAC director Chew Eng Han, another of the accused.

Chew was a church board member but stepped down when AMAC became the church's investment manager.

"I told them, if you want to do it, you guys just have to provide the flow of the funds, because I cannot come up with the (money)," Mr Hanafi said.

He admitted he did not know why Wee and Chew were eager to have the church's investment in his firm's bonds, which had a maturity of three years, repaid before the first year was up.

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