Trustee on Crossover Project: 'We wanted to reach out to a harsh world'

SINGAPORE - IT'S A cruel world where people listen only to the rich and successful.

That was why City Harvest Church (CHC) came up with the Crossover Project - where Ms Ho Yeow Sun would go into the secular world and become a successful pop singer.

This way, she could take the opportunity to preach to those who do not usually associate themselves with church and Christianity.

Said church trustee Susan Ong: "We had to send someone (into the secular world) who was talented, had a gift, but will not be tarnished (by secular culture)."

As the City Harvest trial continued on Monday, Madam Ong, who now lives in California, took the witness stand.

During cross-examination by church founder Kong Hee's lawyer, she took the opportunity to launch into a spiel about Ms Ho and the Crossover Project.

"We wanted to reach out to a harsh world where people will only listen to those who are rich and successful. (Ho was chosen) not because she is Kong Hee's wife but because she was suitable."

Madam Ong added that the only way for Ms Ho to be heard and noticed in the secular world was to also be rich and successful.

Yet she emphasised that Ms Ho did not do this for personal gain and that despite her glamorous image, she was in fact "a very wholesome lady" who had raised a son who is "wholesome, balanced and good natured".

Madam Ong is one of three CHC trustees who act as custodians for the church's assets. Married to Mr Derek Dunn, former executive pastor of CHC, she also works for an insurance company and specialises in risk management and compliance.

Responding to a question from Deputy Public Prosecutor (DPP) Christopher Ong, the church trustee said she knew the bonds were used to bankroll Ms Ho's career in evangelising and that she saw nothing wrong with the investments.

Repeatedly saying that the bonds for Xtron Productions, Ms Ho's former artist management company, were not shams, she also insisted that the people at the company were "top notch" and "among the best in the region", with the company having a lot of potential.

Xtron's losses

She even stuck to her guns when presented with Xtron's losses two years in a row, which totalled $18 million by 2008.

Companies are not always profitable because sometimes they invest in equipment, she said, later adding that additional losses stemmed from the fact that Ms Ho's album had yet to be launched.

Madam Ong also told the court on Monday that she knew the details of all documents she signed and would call up one of the accused, then-finance manager Sharon Tan, if she wasn't sure.

Not true, said the prosecution, producing an e-mail exchange between administrator of the Crossover Project Serina Wee and CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han.

Madam Ong had told Wee that most times, trustees were "signing (documents) blindly" and trusted the investment managers.

In response, the witness said she doesn't remember telling Wee this and told the DPP to pose the question to the accused instead.

On the other hand, another witness, Mr Wahju Hanafi, said he kept out of the church's business. The reason: He was an ordinary church member.

Mr Wahju had asked to step down as Xtron director in January 2007, after taking over glassware company PT The First National Glassware (also known as Firna) and its multi-million-dollar debt. He eventually stepped down in 2008.

While Mr Wahju, 53, continued signing financial statements during this period, he was not sure who was responsible for the decision-making.

"I let it go since I don't want to get involved after expressing sentiments (to step down)."

Xtron had to seek other sources of funding and issued $13 million of bonds.

The Indonesian tycoon would give $1 million or more every year to the Crossover Project as he felt that winning over non-church-going young people was a worthy mission. Profit-making was not a big concern.

He said: "Every time I spend a million, I would work out how many souls are won and then how much each soul is worth to me... So if I spend a million and then we win 138,000 souls, that means every soul is worth less than $1,000.

"To me, I think it is a good buy."

tnp@sph.com.sg


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