'The sky's the limit' for Sun Ho

SINGAPORE - The sky's the limit when it comes to the Crossover Project. And only the best will do when it comes to pushing singer Ho Yeow Sun, the face of the project, to success in the US.

Started in 2002, the Crossover Project was City Harvest Church's (CHC) bid to position Ms Ho as a successful pop singer, so she could preach to those who do not usually associate themselves with the church and Christianity. But it doesn't stop there.

The US was just a stepping stone to the ultimate goal: China.

In court on Wednesday, it emerged that church founder Kong Hee had big plans for his wife's US debut.

DPP Tan Kiat Pheng brought up a February 2005 e-mail, in which Kong had instructed Ms Ho's US-based music producer and manager Justin Herz to "plan as if 'the sky is the limit'". They would then work out how to get funds for the project.

Discussing whether to do a "top class album and marketing/promotion" at $1.5 million or a $400,000 budget, Kong wrote: "If we have a solid breakthrough plan, and product, I'm sure all the rest will work out by itself. But let's shoot for top-of-the-line type of planning in everything that we do for Sun."

Mr Herz had replied that they will continue to shoot for the stars and "make sure that Sun works only with the best in the business".

DPP Tan had quizzed Indonesian tycoon Wahju Hanafi, 53, about this e-mail that he was not included in - after the latter agreed with the defence on Monday that the Crossover Project was not a bottomless pit.

Kong and five others are accused of misusing more than $50 million of church money to finance Ms Ho's singing career and cover up the amount.

Kong's lawyer Edwin Tong, who had sought to show that the church founder had been careful with the budget for Ms Ho, objected - saying the e-mail exchange should not be introduced in court because Mr Wahju was not among the addressees.

The judge allowed the move.

Still, grand plans for the project were evident in other e-mails. There was talk of roping in entertainment A-listers like R&B legend Missy Elliott to endorse Ms Ho's album and a tour with Rihanna.

Church leaders had also circulated projections of Ms Ho's album sales in 2007 over e-mail.

The estimates ranged from 200,000 copies to three million units in the space of two months - a projection that Mr Wahju said he remembered discussing with fellow Xtron Productions director Choong Kar Weng. Xtron used to manage Ms Ho, and Mr Wahju was an Xtron director from 2003 till 2008.

The 200,000 projection was made in the early days before famed music producer Wyclef Jean came on board, Mr Wahju said.

"If they were (to) propose to me that the sales is only 200,000, I wouldn't be putting $12, $13 million to sell 200,000 albums."

But he admitted Mr Herz had not told him about the projections personally and the three million sales figure was "what was in my mind".

Ballpark figures

It turned out Mr Wahju's hopes of raking in $20 to $30 million revenue after the proposed album launch in 2010 was based on ballpark figures, namely "a string of information from Pastor Kong to Pastor Tan, Pastor Tan to (Chew) Eng Han or to Serina (Wee)".

After more than a week on the witness stand, Mr Wahju stepped down Wednesday. When DPP Tan asked him who was really involved in the financing of the Crossover Project, he pointed at former church member Chew Eng Han as "the key person".

Kong Hee, Tan Ye Peng, John Lam, Sharon Tan and Serina Wee were all in either administrative roles or church duties.

Mr Wahju insisted: "(The) others were just helping to administer the budgeting (and) all that."

His departure meant the appearance of accountant Foong Daw Ching, 63, as witness.

The chairman of the "Elder Board" in the Church of Singapore said he has known Kong for "several years". He said Kong's personal taxes and the accounts of some of his private businesses are handled by Baker Tilly TFW LLP, where Mr Foong is a partner.

Mr Foong said he meets Kong at inter-church events, and sometimes receives text messages from the CHC pastor with updates about the church and his wife's pop career.

"I show him mutual respect as a church leader, we are both brothers in Christ. That is how I say I'll respect him. He's a very successful pastor," Mr Foong said in response to a question from Chief Prosecutor Mavis Chionh about his relationship with Kong.

About the case

City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and senior church members are on trial for allegedly misusing more than $50 million of church funds through sham bonds.This includes $24 million to fund the music career of Kong's pop-singer wife Sun Ho and another $26 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 for up to 20 years and fined on each charge.Those found guilty of falsification of accounts can be jailed for up to 10 years and fined on each charge.

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