Tycoon didn't want to buy Sun Ho $2.2m New York apartment

SINGAPORE - IT'S up to me how I want to spend my money, Indonesian tycoon Wahju Hanafi, 53, told the court on Wednesday at the trial of the City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders.

The six, including founder Kong Hee, are accused of using sham bonds to finance his wife, pop singer Sun Ho's career.

Mr Wahju (in photo above) uttered that phrase about his money several times on Wednesday.

In e-mail exchanges, produced in court, it was revealed that when the Indonesian businessman received a request for a donation to buy Ms Ho an apartment in New York, he said no.

Former finance manager Serina Wee had asked him to transfer $2.2 million to buy the property for Ms Ho while she was recording and working in the US city.

Mr Wahju told the court: "That was supposed to be a place for her to stay, maybe, rather than renting a place. It's something she (Wee) wants to instruct me to donate, but I didn't do it."

Wee later clarified in subsequent e-mail that the $2.2 million for the New York apartment should come from Ultimate Assets - the company managing Ms Ho - and not from Mr Wahju.

So why did Mr Wahju say no?

"I just didn't want to buy somebody a house... I can rent her a house, a unit, a flat, an apartment," he said. "But I needed the money more than her at that time."

He explained he had been suffering losses and the 2008 downturn made things worse. It put him in a difficult position, forcing him to sell his Singapore properties.

That's because at the peak of the recession, banks started asking people to top up their loans to cover against their property values going down.

Top up

Mr Wahju said he had to top up $3.5 million for all his properties here, valued at more than $50 million. Because of this, he wanted to sell the Singapore properties and cut his losses - a comment that Kong's second-in-command Tan Ye Peng criticised in an e-mail saying it showed Mr Wahju was concerned about saving face.

Mr Wahju sold shares in his company PT The First National Glassware (Firna). At stake was 40 per cent of a company he had 80 per cent control of. His father-in-law owned the remaining 20 per cent.

But when he needed money, because of his troubles, about $11 million that came from drawing down the bonds went to Mr Wahju to pay off his debts.

The bonds would help the church get more interest and more income compared to the quarter per cent interest that would accrue from the money sitting in the bank.

"So that's how the beginning of the idea of this bond had arisen," he said.

But Mr Wahju did not just pay debts with that money. He also invested in shares and forex.

That worried some church members. In several e-mail, Wee revealed how she was unsure how to classify the investment gains "as belonging to us or his personal (transactions), because technically he is using our money".

Asked about this on Wednesday, Mr Wahju insisted it was his money. After all, he had given the church the money and now he could take the money and use it any way he wanted, he reasoned aloud.

He said: "It is my money that comes from my borrowing to pay back all these bond money, so whatever bond money that I borrowed is in my control."

Were transactions money laundering?

THE hearing also threw up talk of secret letters from CHC to glassware company Firna.

At the heart of the worry was that money transfers from the church to Xtron and later Ultimate Assets (UA), a trust company owned by Mr Wahju Hanafi and his wife, would be seen as suspicious.

Mr Wahju was worried enough to say that the bond transactions (in which large amounts of money are moved in and out of bank accounts within a short time) might smell of money laundering.

Since the fall of financial services firm Lehman Brothers, banks have been very strict about monitoring transactions, Mr Wahju said.

He told the accused Chew Eng Han and Tan Ye Peng in 2008: "We can't just draw down money same day as it comes in, as I have explained before, it will be too suspicious like money laundering".

Mr Wahju said that UA was set up so he could have control over Ms Ho Yeow Sun's music career. It was, by his own admission, a shell company.

When asked by the prosecution if he had visited her in the US or her producers, he said no. All he did, he said, was pay the bills.

But he said UA was also used to move funds from Firna. And that worried him enough to say it may be seen as laundering.

kohht@sph.com.sg

Get The New Paper for more stories.