Thursday, 22 October 2015

City Harvest trial: Six accused guilty of all charges

They had acted dishonestly and were involved in conspiracies to misuse church funds, says judge
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2015

The long-running legal battle over the misuse of City Harvest Church (CHC) funds on Wednesday (Oct 21) resulted in all six accused being convicted of multimillion-dollar fraud.


Some of them, including the church's charismatic 51-year-old founder Kong Hee, were found guilty of secretly funnelling $24 million of church funds into sham investments to bankroll the controversial pop music career of his wife Ho Yeow Sun. And some were guilty of devising plans to use a further $26 million to cover these tracks.

* Kong Hee sentenced to 8 years in prison, 5 others get between 21 months and 6 years

In a courtroom packed with close to 70 church supporters, Judge See Kee Oon ruled that the six had "acted dishonestly" and were involved in conspiracies to misuse church building funds for the Crossover Project - a CHC mission to evangelise through Ms Ho's music. They also defrauded auditors by falsifying accounts.

"Each of them participated and functioned in their own way as crucial cogs in the machinery," said Judge See, who singled out Kong as the spiritual leader the other defendants had trusted.

City Harvest trial: All six senior church members have been found guilty of all the charges. The full story here http://str.sg/ZLYp
Posted by The Straits Times on Tuesday, October 20, 2015


They are: former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 55; former CHC finance managers Serina Wee, 38, and Sharon Tan, 40; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 42; and former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 47.

The mammoth trial has captured public attention as tales of extravagant spending by Kong and his wife emerged along with details of an intricate financial fraud.

After 140 days of trial proceedings which began in May 2013, all six arrived in court to hear the verdict in good spirits with their families in tow. Minutes before the hearing began, they were chatting and joking with each other in the dock.

Chew told The Straits Times he was at peace and unafraid, while Tan Ye Peng flashed a thumbs up sign at the defence lawyers.

Some of the church's supporters had queued overnight for a coveted pass into the courtroom, and about 60 people who did not manage to get a ticket were outside, eyes glued to their phones for updates.

But moments after Judge See started delivering his verdict, the mood darkened. Smiles faded and the six stared glumly ahead.

The judge addressed them in sequence, pronouncing the six guilty of all charges - which involved varying counts of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts.

Most of them hung their heads low in the dock. Sharon Tan and Wee were seen wiping away tears.

After the hearing, Senior Counsels Edwin Tong, Andre Maniam and N. Sreenivasan - lawyers for Kong, Wee and Tan Ye Peng, respectively - said it was still "too early" to say whether or not their clients would appeal.


A maximum cumulative sentence of 20 years can be imposed on the accused, in addition to a fine.

In a statement released by the church, Kong's wife Ho, who is also CHC's executive director, said: "We have placed our faith in God and trust that whatever the outcome, He will use it for our good."

Some of those found guilty stuck to their guns. "It's been a very long trial, and someone prudent would have been prepared for conviction. But, of course, we were always believing in our acquittal," said Lam.

Chew said: "I still believe in justice, that the innocent will be set free. And I believe I am innocent."






#CHCTRIAL VERDICT: All 6 #CityHarvest accused are guilty of all charges, said Judge See."I am satisfied that six accused persons are guilty of all the charges against them."LIVE UPDATES: bit.ly/1GotcZX
Posted by Channel NewsAsia on Tuesday, October 20, 2015






Presiding Judge of the State Courts, See Kee Oon, said the evidence presented overwhelmingly showed they had all acted dishonestly
Posted by The New Paper on Tuesday, October 20, 2015





Sun Ho may not have been among the City Harvest leaders charged, but the case centred around her. See what the judge had to say about her music career here... http://bit.ly/1MTbmzw
Posted by The New Paper on Wednesday, October 21, 2015





City Harvest trial: Hiding unlawful conduct, siphoning funds, fraud...
Judge points to weight of evidence that led him to find all six defendants guilty of all charges against them
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2015

They had engaged in covert operations and concealed their unlawful conduct. They had knowingly siphoned millions from the church to fund the expensive music career of the pastor's wife.

And they had defrauded auditors with falsified accounts and conspired with the intention to cause wrongful loss to City Harvest Church (CHC).

The list of misdeeds at the end of Judge See Kee Oon's 15-page oral judgment read like a damning coda to the City Harvest trial.


In the judgment, he wrote that the weight of the evidence had led him to find all six City Harvest co- accused guilty of all the charges made out against them.


The six - including senior pastor Kong Hee, 51 - had stood trial on varying charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts.


For each count of criminal breach of trust, the six could face up to 10 years' jail and a fine. The falsification of accounts carries a jail term of up to 10 years and a fine.


The maximum jail sentence that District Court judges can impose is 10 years per charge, or a cumulative sentence of up to 20 years.


For all those who haven't heard the news: The six CHC members were found guilty of all charges today. Here's the full transcript of the court verdict.
Posted by The Middle Ground on Wednesday, October 21, 2015


The other accused are deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 42; former CHC finance managers Serina Wee, 38, and Sharon Tan, 40; former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 47; and former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 55.

Bail of $1 million was extended to Kong, Tan Ye Peng, Chew and Lam. It was set at $750,000 for Sharon Tan and Wee. Wee was previously out on bail for $500,000. All six are barred from travelling overseas.

Judge See noted that although there was no evidence of any wrongful gain by the accused, this did not factor in his decision as the prosecution's case was "premised on wrongful loss caused to CHC through the misappropriation of CHC's funds".


Nor did it matter ultimately if the accused had "trusted completely the leadership of Kong Hee" and acted in accordance with his instructions.

"But no matter how pure the motive or how ingrained the trust in one's leaders... these do not exonerate an accused person from criminal liability if all the elements of an offence are made out," he wrote.

The six had misused some $50 million in church building funds earmarked for building-related expenses or investments.

First, $24 million was invested in bonds from music production company Xtron and glass-maker Firna that were in fact used to fund the Crossover Project - a mission to evangelise through Ms Ho Yeow Sun's music.

Later, $26 million was used to cover up the initial misdeed.

Judge See noted that Xtron and Firna bonds were not genuine investments but were "wrong use" of the building fund.

Furthermore, he said, the accused went ahead with the $13 million Xtron bonds, even though album sales projections indicated that only about 200,000 copies would be sold, making far less money than that needed to redeem the bonds on time. The defendants then devised plans to funnel funds to Xtron "under the guise of legitimate transactions" to help it solve its cashflow difficulties.

They also hid the fact from auditors that the company was controlled by Kong and Tan Ye Peng.

"I do not accept that they genuinely believed that the sale of Sun Ho's music albums would generate sufficient profit for CHC to enjoy financial return," wrote Judge See, noting that Ms Ho's "perceived success" was inflated as album sales were boosted by the church.

Similarly, the "primary purpose" of the $11 million in Firna bonds was to channel money from the church to the Crossover Project.

Judge See said he did not buy the defence's argument that money spent on Crossover had a dual purpose of being an investment and serving a "missions" purpose.

"These are creative labels tacked on in an attempt to strain and stretch the plain meaning of the word 'investment'," he said.

He said the "round-tripping" transactions devised were merely to give the appearance the bonds were redeemed. "The substance of it was that CHC was channelling money through various conduits in order to pay itself," he wrote.

Judge See noted the paper trail left by the accused did not indicate innocence, as the defence claimed, but was "more suggestive of a mindset of presumptuousness or boldness".

"The weight of the evidence, however, points to a finding that they knew they were acting dishonestly and I am unable to conclude otherwise," he wrote.




"They (accused) all have intent to defraud," the judge said. #CHCtrial
Posted by Yahoo Singapore on Tuesday, October 20, 2015





City Harvest trial: Popular leader left silent by verdict
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2015

He is known among City Harvest churchgoers for his charisma, and had preached passionately to a 30,000-strong congregation at the peak of the church's popularity in 2009.

But City Harvest Church (CHC) founder and senior pastor Kong Hee was a man of few words after the verdict of a long-running criminal trial was delivered yesterday. He was found guilty of three charges of criminal breach of trust.

Sitting in the dock next to co- accused John Lam and Sharon Tan, the 51-year-old hung his head low and wore a stoic expression as Presiding Judge See Kee Oon addressed a packed courtroom.

When asked about his feelings as he left the State Courts building later, he braved a smile and would only say: "No, not now."

He was accompanied by his lawyer Edwin Tong and his wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun, who also kept silent.

Since its formation in 1989, CHC has been through its fair share of ups and downs.

Fronted by Kong and Ms Ho, the church began with just 20 followers in a single-storey terrace house at 41A Amber Road. That year, Kong had just graduated from the National University of Singapore and had "barely a dollar to his name", as he puts it on CHC's website.

Its focus on Bible studies soon attracted some 200 members in the first year. In 1995, after Kong completed his theology doctorate in the United States, the number of members swelled to 1,000.

The church continued to grow exponentially and, by 2009, more than 30,000 youthful and energetic followers would fill its chic $48 million Jurong West premises for services every week.

Over the years, however, Kong had to brush off criticism about the church's supposedly aggressive evangelism and also his sermons, which some in the Christian community felt were focused on financial blessings.

In an interview with The Straits Times in 2008, he maintained that the church was "merely seeking to present Christianity in a way that is relevant to the people of the 21st century".

When the 140-day trial began, some church members were quick to rally around their embattled leader, while others expressed concern about the church's reputation.

Today, CHC's congregation stands at about 17,000.




How did City Harvest Church (Official)-linked media cover the #CHCVerdict? Here's our verdict. #CHCtrial
Posted by Mothership.sg on Tuesday, October 20, 2015





City News took down the FB post that Mothership.sg featured. We've updated the article with the screen shot. City Harvest Church (Official)
Posted by Mothership.sg on Thursday, October 22, 2015





Man who alleged funds misuse 'vindicated'
By Ng Huiwen, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2015

The businessman who charged in 2003 that City Harvest Church (CHC) was paying for Ms Ho Yeow Sun's music career is now vindicated, said his daughter yesterday.

Back then, businessman Roland Poon alleged that church funds were being misused to finance the music career of Ms Ho, the wife of CHC founder Kong Hee.

Mr Poon, 66, eventually retracted his statement and apologised, but his comments would set off a chain of events leading to the criminal charges, according to the prosecution.

Yesterday, the six accused in the long-running CHC trial were found guilty of all charges.

Mr Poon's daughter, Ms Sharon Poon, told The Straits Times after the verdict: "I feel happy for my father that he is now vindicated, and that after 10 years, we now know that what he did was right."

She said Mr Poon had been concerned about the outcome of the case and was "waiting for this day to happen", adding: "Now, he can sleep in peace."

"He was brave enough to come out about it. Now, I hope that they can apologise to him, if they still have the heart," she said.

Mr Poon declined to comment when contacted yesterday.

Businessman Roland Poon spoke out in 2003, saying that City Harvest Church funds were being misused to finance the music career of Ms Ho, the wife of CHC founder Kong Hee. http://str.sg/ZLWn
Posted by The Straits Times on Wednesday, October 21, 2015


During the trial, much of the spotlight was cast on the Crossover Project - a plan started in 2002 to evangelise to the "unchurched" and woo non-converts, in particular youth - through Ms Ho's secular pop music.

The project started on a high, and Ms Ho later went on to produce five albums and perform in 80 concerts as part of a worldwide outreach tour between October 2003 and May 2004 that drew some 140,000 supporters.

However, controversy surrounding the project had begun to brew since January 2003, when Mr Poon flagged the possible misuse of funds.

The project's costs increased dramatically when the decision was made to break into the United States market. Songwriter and producer Wyclef Jean was hired in 2006 to help Ms Ho.

Criticism surged again in 2007, after the release of Ms Ho's English single China Wine. In the risque music video, marketed for its "Asian-Reggae" fusion sounds, she is seen dancing in a skimpy outfit.

"If Sun made it in the US, it would open a big door for our missions," Kong had said during the trial.

However, the court also heard that church members were supposedly encouraged to divert their tithes and donations to music production company Xtron to fund the mounting expenses of Ms Ho's US album.

Kong was also accused by former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, one of the defendants, of spending church money to buy Ms Ho's earlier Mandarin albums, thereby inflating sales figures.





"We are disappointed by the outcome," says Sun Ho on the #CHCtrial verdict. "Nonetheless, I know that Pastor Kong and...
Posted by Channel NewsAsia on Tuesday, October 20, 2015







"We are disappointed by the outcome." #CHCtrial
Posted by Yahoo Singapore on Tuesday, October 20, 2015





City Harvest trial: Supporters' mood turns grim on hearing news
By Jasmine Osada, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2015

On Tuesday night, the eve of the verdict, the City Harvest Church held a 12-hour fasting session and a prayer meeting for Kong Hee and others accused of misappropriating and misusing church funds.

One person who attended the event at the church's Jurong West building told The Straits Times that more than 2,300 "prayed for victory". But as news that all six accused had been found guilty reached the 60 or so supporters who had gathered outside Court 1 yesterday, the mood turned grim - with plenty of frowns and upset faces.

Many seemed to be using messaging apps to communicate with people inside the courtroom. Supporters had started queueing outside the State Courts as early as 10pm on Tuesday for one of 55 passes available to attend the hearing.

Those who came together with family or friends started talking to each other in hushed tones.

While most declined to speak to the media, those who did expressed their support for the church and its convicted leaders.

A 22-year-old, who declined to be named, told The Straits Times before the verdict that the church will remain strong regardless of the outcome. "I'm very sure I can trust in my church and its integrity. The pastors are genuine people and they are sincere," she said. "I believe that the church is doing things properly."

Business owner John Tay, 25, also said after the guilty verdicts that his belief in the church remains unaffected. "I'm still feeling calm, and my support for the church and its leaders will never waver."

At about 11.20am yesterday, an hour after court was adjourned, the church released a statement by its co-founder and executive director Ho Yeow Sun, thanking members.

"The judge has rendered his decision and, naturally, we are disappointed by the outcome. Nonetheless, I know that Pastor Kong and the rest are studying the judgment intently and will take legal advice from their respective lawyers in the days to come," wrote Ms Ho, whose pop career was a centrepiece of the case. The misappropriated money was used to fund her music projects.

"Thank you for your unwavering faithfulness in loving God and loving one another. More than ever before, let's have a unity that is unbreakable. Pastor Kong and I are humbled by the tremendous outpouring of love and support shown to us during this time," she went on.

Several people who abandoned City Harvest said the guilty verdicts vindicated their decision to leave the church. One, who declined to be named, said that she quit in 2013 because she felt "let down" by its leaders. "I believed that the six were guilty, and now that the verdict is out, I am relieved knowing that I did not make the wrong judgment in leaving," added the undergraduate.

When The Straits Times visited City Harvest's Jurong West church yesterday, the building was "closed for maintenance" according to the staff there. It is slated to reopen during the weekend.

Additional reporting by Lester Hio




Dear Church Family,The judge has rendered his decision and, naturally, we are disappointed by the outcome....
Posted by Sun Ho (Official) on Tuesday, October 20, 2015






Dear Church Family,The judge has rendered his decision and, naturally, we are disappointed by the outcome....
Posted by City Harvest Church (Official) on Tuesday, October 20, 2015





'Disappointed, but my faith is not shaken': City Harvest members react to verdict
“We are all human and maybe some things were not done right but ultimately we still love them": City Harvest members at the State Courts when 6 of their leaders were found guilty of criminal breach of trust and falsification of accounts talk to Channel NewsAsia.
By Vanessa Paige Chelvan and Justin Ong, Channel NewsAsia, 21 Oct 2015

City Harvest Church (CHC) members lamented the guilty verdict handed down on Wednesday (Oct 21) by Judge See Kee Oon to six of their leaders accused of misappropriating S$50 million of church funds and falsifying the church's accounts.

Those Channel NewsAsia spoke to said they would continue to rally behind their church despite the conviction of the six accused - CHC founder and senior pastor Kong Hee, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, former chairman of CHC’s investment committee John Lam, former CHC investment committee member Chew Eng Han and former finance managers Serina Wee and Sharon Tan.

“I am quite disappointed that not a single charge was dropped. Everyone is of course very sad,” said Mr John Tay, 25, a CHC member of 11 years.

Mr Tay waited outside the courtroom as the verdict was delivered on Wednesday, not having arrived early enough to be among 55 members of the public allowed to enter.

Also waiting outside the courtroom was fellow church member Justine Lee, 24. “The first thing we felt was definitely sadness. But I think the sentencing is still not out yet so I hope whatever the sentence is, it’s fair," said Mr Lee.

“I’m disappointed, but mostly I’m just believing that God will bring us through this,” said Ms Jazreel Wong, 22.

"We are all human beings and maybe some things were not done right but ultimately we still love them," said a City Harvest Church (Official) member following the verdict passed on 6 of the church's leaders.
Posted by Channel NewsAsia on Tuesday, October 20, 2015


"WE BELIEVE IN THE CROSSOVER PROJECT"

Asked if their trust in the church had been “criminally breached”, as levelled by Judge See Kee Oon in his oral judgment, the trio disagreed.

“I understand where the judge is coming from, but the Crossover Project is something that we all deeply believe in and care for,” said Mr Tay.

The Crossover Project was hatched by CHC as a way to propel Kong's wife, Ho Yeow Sun - better known as Sun Ho - into the public limelight by fashioning her into a pop star.

Added Mr Tay: “Of course the entire process could have been done better, but I'm still supportive because I know as much as the funds were misused, they did not go towards any individual gain but was for a church purpose.”

“My faith in the church is not shaken. In fact, in the past five years it has strengthened and grown deeper,” he added.

Mr Lee, a CHC member of 10 years, said he believed the case was a matter of “good intentions”, but carried out via “methods not directly abiding with the law, in the judge’s opinion”.

“I wouldn't say they did the wrong thing. The general public might not understand the Crossover Project but to me it was important in our church mission and led to hundreds of thousands of people joining,” he said.

Added Ms Wong: “We are all human and maybe some things were not done right but ultimately we still love them.”

“As we give, whether or not it’s to the building fund, offerings or tithes, ultimately we are giving unto God and not to the leaders. We are just trying to build God’s house so I feel that the building fund is more a material thing while the Crossover Project is more of a spiritual thing,” she added.

TIME TO MOVE ON?

Mr Tay said that in the past five years, CHC has taken steps to improve its internal processes, “in terms of accountability from church management to church members, and corporate governance”.

And Ms Wong noted that CHC's leaders have called on the church to "move on" to a new chapter.

“We have this vision called CHC 2.0, where Sun (Ho) will be leading us mostly,” said the church member of eight years. “They have been getting Sun more involved. She has been leading praise and worship, and the rest of the pastors have also stepped up.”

Ms Ho also referred to "CHC 2.0" in a statement posted on the church’s Facebook page shortly after the verdict, pointing to a new management and new church board that has been running the church’s operations since 2012.

The interesting things we find in the comments, though. #CHCVerdict #CHCTrial
Posted by Mothership.sg on Tuesday, October 20, 2015


REMOVAL PROCEEDINGS TO RESUME

In response to the verdict, the Office of the Commissioner of Charities (COC) said on Wednesday that they would resume removal proceeding for the six church leaders convicted after they are sentenced. It had agreed to defer the removal proceedings in Aug 2013.

The commissioner's office will seek representations from them on why they should not be removed. "The COC will consider fully and fairly all representations received before making a decision," it said in a statement late Wednesday.

"The six individuals who were convicted of offences involving dishonesty or deception are automatically disqualified from being a governing board member, key officer or trustee of CHC," the COC added.

It said the removal proceedings do not remove any of these individuals from their religious duties. "Pastor Kong may continue with his religious duties, as this is separate from the holding of any governance or management positions in CHC," the COC stated.

The church can also continue its normal services, collect offerings during its weekly services, and conduct fund-raising appeals subject to compliance with existing regulations, the COC said.





City Harvest trial: Church founder Kong Hee and five others were convicted of all charges levelled against them on...
Posted by The Straits Times on Wednesday, October 21, 2015






City Harvest Church (Official) trial: All 6 found guilty on all charges."The evidence points overwhelmingly to a...
Posted by Channel NewsAsia on Tuesday, October 20, 2015






Kong Hee 'key man behind church scandal'
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2015

Kong Hee exaggerated the success of his wife's music career, was in control of the supposedly independent firm that managed her, and played a key part in misleading auditors and lawyers.

And critically, it was his approval and guidance that was sought by his five accomplices in their misuse of City Harvest Church (CHC) funds.

This was what Judge See Kee Oon said of Kong, the church's founder, in his 270-page written judgment obtained by The Straits Times yesterday - making clear that it was the 51-year-old who was first and foremost behind the scandal.

On Wednesday, the judge convicted Kong, former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, former CHC finance managers Serina Wee and Sharon Tan, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, and former CHC finance committee member John Lam of misusing some $50 million in church funds. Of this amount, some $24 million was invested in sham bonds to bankroll Ms Ho Yeow Sun's pop music career, as part of the Crossover project - Kong's brainchild to spread his church's message through popular culture.

The project was initially funded directly by the church, but that all changed in January 2003 when church member Roland Poon alleged that the church's building fund had been used to finance Ms Ho's burgeoning music career.

Mr Poon would go on to retract the allegations and apologise.

At the time, the judge pointed out, Kong had "emphatically" insisted that no church funds were ever used - in his own words "not a single cent" - to support his wife's music career and boost her sales.

"But this is again flatly contradicted by the evidence that emerged at the trial," wrote the judge, one of several contradictions he highlighted between Kong's testimony and the facts.

Dear Church and friends, By now, you would have heard that the judge has rendered his decision in the long-running...
Posted by Kong Hee on Thursday, October 22, 2015


To avoid misconceptions that Ms Ho's music career was "not real" and CHC money was spent in a "cavalier and flippant" manner to promote it, it was Kong who decided on the need to be discreet on how the church went about funding the Crossover. "Kong Hee took overall charge of the Crossover and all matters pertaining to the budgeting and financing of the project came under his supervision and instruction," wrote the judge.

Xtron was set up by three of the accused to manage Ms Ho. It had its own directors, but it was Kong alone who made decisions regarding his wife's music career and how much to spend. Kong's claim that he had "significant influence" over Xtron but not control over it was a matter of semantics, ruled the judge. "The essential point is simply that he never believed that the Xtron directors presented any impediment to his ability to do what he wished with Xtron."

And that included control of the money Xtron received when the church "invested" millions into bonds issued by the firm. The judge agreed with the prosecution that the bonds were a sham and simply a way through which CHC could fund Ms Ho's pop music.

"I am satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Kong Hee did not believe that the Xtron bonds were genuine investments," he wrote.

He also dismissed Kong's defence that he regularly consulted auditors and lawyers, with no red flags raised. "But there was an important gap in their knowledge, which was the true nature of the relationship between CHC and Xtron." He ruled that Kong contributed in misleading auditors.

Judge See noted that Kong would not have been able to act alone, and "orchestrate, monitor and manage every move". His five accomplices had also knowingly committed the crimes and were "willing and eager" to be led by Kong, he wrote.

But he reserved his strongest words for the church founder, who was found guilty of three counts of criminal breach of trust.

He described Kong as having a tendency to embellish or exaggerate. The judge said Kong could not have been ignorant that his wife did not actually appear on "official" Chinese government-issued first day covers, or sing the official Special Olympics theme song - all of which he claimed she did.

And as to Kong's claims that he was not an expert in legal matters, Judge See said one did not have to be such an expert "to appreciate certain fundamental aspects of honesty, truth and integrity".

The judge will hand down sentences on Nov 20 at the earliest.





Kong Hee breaks his silence.
Posted by Mothership.sg on Thursday, October 22, 2015






City Harvest Church (Official) founder Kong Hee has made his first public comments since his conviction on charges of criminal breach of trust. #CHCtrial
Posted by Yahoo Singapore on Thursday, October 22, 2015






"The days and steps ahead are challenging, but with God's grace and love, I have no fear": City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee breaks his silence after he was convicted for criminal breach of trust.
Posted by Channel NewsAsia on Thursday, October 22, 2015






CHC slammed for ‘secrecy, culture of insecurity’
In 270-page written judgment, judge saves strongest words for church leader Kong Hee
By Neo Chai Chin, TODAY, 23 Oct 2015

Criticising what he called the culture of insecurity that six City Harvest Church leaders convicted on Wednesday operated under, Presiding Judge of the State Courts See Kee Oon saved some of his strongest words for church founder Kong Hee in his 270-page written judgment released to the media yesterday.

The six leaders — Kong, his deputy Tan Ye Peng, former church accountant Serina Wee, former church investment manager Chew Eng Han, former finance manager Sharon Tan and former church board member John Lam — were found guilty on all of counts of criminal breach of trust and/or falsification of accounts.

Judge See had delivered his oral judgment, a condensed version of the written grounds, on Wednesday. He found that they had acted dishonestly and in breach of the trust reposed in them to cause wrongful loss of S$50 million to the church and to defraud auditors.

In his judgment grounds, the judge wrote that Kong capitalised on the church climate of paranoia and fear in 2003 to galvanise support for the Crossover Project — using his wife Ho Yeow Sun’s secular pop music to reach out to non-Christians. The collective fear arose after then-church member Roland Poon publicly commented that church funds had been used to promote Ms Ho’s music career.

Kong’s response to the incident revealed “both his personal dominance and deep insecurity”, said JC See. The pastor rallied the church “around the big idea that they (i.e. CHC’s leaders and by extension the entire church) were being maligned and under attack, and hence had to be discreet,” he added.

“He convinced them that if CHC’s leaders believed they had to be discreet in order for the Crossover to succeed, then they ought to simply trust them and not question their motives or reasons.”

The effort to keep the church’s financing of the Crossover discreet led to the set-up of Xtron Productions to manage Ms Ho’s career. The criminal charges in this case relate in part to sham bonds worth millions of dollars that the church bought from Xtron to channel church funds to the Crossover.

All six leaders’ committed zeal for the Crossover vision may have clouded their objectivity and judgment and obscured the need to safeguard money which was not theirs to use as they wished, said judge See. They chose to create cover stories and clever round-trips concealing their unlawful conduct, he added.

“The allure of power that can be exercised in secrecy is difficult to resist. When shrouded under a cloak of invisibility, much like the mythical ring of Gyges, persons in such positions of power have no fear of accountability and tend to become their own worst enemies,” he wrote.

The ring of Gyges is a mythical artefact that grants its owner the power to become invisible at will, mentioned in Greek philosopher Plato’s The Republic.

#CityHarvest trial: In his 270-page written judgment, Judge See Kee Oon saved some of his strongest words for church founder Kong Hee, saying “the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light”. (via TODAY)
Posted by Channel NewsAsia on Thursday, October 22, 2015


Judge See wrote: “It has thus been wisely said that the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light, and if they choose not to come into the light they do so for fear that their deeds will be exposed, as they surely will in time.”

Kong would not have been able to act alone and could not orchestrate every move, and the five other leaders were both trusted and trusting, he added. They wanted to ensure their conduct and choices lived up to Kong’s expectations.

Noting that none of the six was aware of all the details, the judge said it could be because there were far too many moving parts in the plan for the Crossover to the United States, which grew more ambitious over time.

The US foray involved Ms Ho’s debut English album, which had hip-hop star Wyclef Jean roped in at one point. It led to the church’s sham bond investments worth S$24 million in Xtron and another company, and four of the leaders then misused another S$26.6 million of church funds to try to cover up the first amount.

“But this may have also been the inevitable consequence of CHC’s election to carry out its affairs and operations relating to the funding of the Crossover in a discreet fashion. This was merely a euphemism for a culture of insecurity mired in secrecy and opaqueness where asking difficult or awkward questions was taboo,” the judge wrote.

There was no way that Kong – who the judge found to have controlled Xtron – could fail to realise that once CHC had bought Xtron bonds that the bond proceeds would be “entirely within his control”.

Judge See also noted that Kong had sought to mislead a different set of auditors, Ernst & Young (since renamed EY), who were conducting a governance review of CHC on behalf of the Government towards the end of 2007. Kong helped prepare replies to questions that the auditors might ask, and the church would have told auditors that Xtron’s directors were separate and independent of the church board – which he knew was untrue, said judge See.

He also said Kong exploited Chew’s forceful personality and his determination and drive to achieve objectives, although Chew also glossed over the fact that he himself had bought Ms Ho’s Mandarin albums when he blamed Kong for deceiving him about the true measure of her success.

Separately, Kong broke his silence on the verdict yesterday, posting on Facebook his belief that God would use the outcome of the case for good. The pastor also thanked his supporters and said: “The days and steps ahead are challenging, but with God’s grace and love, I have no fear.”

The six will be back in court on Nov 20, where they could be sentenced.





City Harvest trial: Saga highlights crucial role of whistle-blower
By Abdul Hafiz, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 22 Oct 2015

If there was one clear message yesterday from the guilty verdicts for all six accused in the City Harvest Church trial, it is that the courts here will not tolerate any hanky-panky when it comes to charity money.

There is no excuse, even if they were acting on faith in a magnetic spiritual leader - in this case Kong Hee, who went from a computer science graduate to the founder of a wealthy mega-church with more than 30,000 members at its peak.

But what should also not be forgotten is that it was a decision by a whistle-blower which got the ball rolling. In 2003, church member Roland Poon went public about the growing disquiet over how the church was spending donated money on pushing the pop music career of Kong's wife Ho Yeow Sun.

The 15-page oral judgement by Judge See:
Posted by CHC Confessions on Wednesday, October 21, 2015


The 2005 National Kidney Foundation (NKF) scandal also had its roots in a whistle-blower - a contractor in his 50s, who donated to the cause and wanted to be known only as Mr Tan. He revealed how he had installed a gold-plated tap at the charity's headquarters, opening a can of worms that led to an overhaul of the way charities are regulated.

An independent KPMG audit of NKF revealed systemic weaknesses, such as how the Commissioner of Charities could step in only after a complaint was made. NKF was also able to overstate subsidy figures, treatment costs and patient numbers, despite repeated audits.

In the wake of the report, the Commissioner of Charities (COC) became a full-time position. The oversight system was given tools to be more proactive, with the power to call for documents, search records of charities and appoint auditors to investigate. And in 2007, the Charity Council was formed to push charities into adopting good governance and best practices.

Even so, there was a recognition the authorities could do only so much. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong highlighted the role of the whistle-blower, explaining that there was no way the Government could keep watch on everything.

He said: "If you feel some group has gone wrong and you have the information about it, then come forward and give the information."

This was reiterated to The Straits Times by social service veteran Gerard Ee, current chairman of the Charity Council, who took over the reins at NKF to set things right.

"The role of a whistle-blower is very important," he said yesterday. "If you're a member of the organisation and you know something is amiss but you keep quiet, then you're equally guilty. If you sense that something is wrong, then you should question it. If the financial information is not available, then you should ask why it isn't available."

Still, it will be good if such information was readily accessible.

A plan to ensure that all charities' financial statements are posted on the COC's online Charity Portal for free viewing is yet to come to full fruition. Deadlines have been set and missed over the years. Until now, the past two years of accounts of CHC, a registered charity since 1993, are not available on the site.

"A majority of charities are not large... They don't raise a lot of funds and it may be a challenge for them to have the resources to collate financial statements on a timely basis," said Mr Ee. "The last thing we want to do is to close down charities, especially if they're doing something for a good cause. We just have to keep encouraging them to post their financial information online."

But larger religious charities like CHC are a breed apart. They work behind closed doors, and donations are at times made with a blind conviction that those in charge will always do the right thing under the scrutiny of heaven.

Kong preaches the controversial prosperity gospel, which boils down to "give, and you will receive". The more the tithe, the more the followers will get back materially on earth. As CHC's online donation page puts it: "We believe that our giving is a form of worship."

Former CHC members have spoken of the pressure they felt to donate. Some say they left when the returns never came even as church leaders seemed to be living the high life. And it is not easy to raise the issue publicly, given the possible backlash from fellow worshippers, or a higher power.

In 2003, Mr Poon came forward just before the MTV Asia Awards, where Ms Ho was vying for the Singapore Favourite Artist Award. At the time, there were allegations that church members were being used to drum up votes for her.

Kong insisted not a single cent in church funds was used to buy or promote her albums. In a week, Mr Poon, a 53-year-old businessman at the time, retracted his allegations and spent over $30,000 on apologies in newspapers. But as Mr Poon's daughter told The Straits Times yesterday: "We now know that what he did was right."

Additional reporting by Priscilla Goy




Six church officials were convicted of diverting nearly $37 million in funds to advance the pop star's career.
Posted by NBC News on Wednesday, October 21, 2015





“The accused persons chose to engage in covert operations and conspiratorial cover-ups.”
Posted by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, October 21, 2015





City Harvest trial: Verdict on $50m case expected on Wednesday
Saga that began in 2002 led to six former and current church leaders being arrested, charged
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2015

The saga began in 2002, with a pop singer's music ambitions and a church's desire to spread the Gospel.

A decade later, six former and current City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders were arrested to face varying charges of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts.

They are accused of misappropriating and misusing $24 million in church funds, which were allegedly ploughed into bogus bond investments that funded the singing career of church founder Kong Hee's wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun.

A further $26 million was then supposedly used to cover up the misdeed. In total, $50 million was allegedly misused.

The Straits Times looks at the issues debated in court over the 140-day trial, whose verdict is expected tomorrow.

10 years, six church leaders and a 140-day trial. Recap the City Harvest saga. http://str.sg/ZLTG
Posted by The Straits Times on Monday, October 19, 2015


THE CROSSOVER PROJECT

Much of the case centred around the Crossover Project - a CHC mission to spread the Gospel. It was started in 2002 to reach out to the unchurched using Ms Ho's music.

Initially, Ms Ho's first two Mandarin music albums were funded directly by CHC.

Then, in January 2003, came the Roland Poon incident - which would set off a chain of events leading to the criminal charges, according to the prosecution.

Former church member, Mr Poon, alleged that church funds had been used to finance Ms Ho's publicity and promotional campaigns. He later retracted his claims, and apologised, but his accusations left the spotlight on the megachurch.

The prosecution argues that the uncomfortable scrutiny that followed drove CHC's spiritual leader Kong Hee to devise ways to fund his wife's career with the church's money in such a way that no one would know, except for a select few.

The very first step on this path, according to the prosecution, was to set up a company to look after Ms Ho's career, and alter minutes of past meetings to make it seem that Indonesian businessman Wahju Hanafi had donated seed money of $1.27 million to the project in 2002.

At CHC's AGM on April 27, 2003, Kong referred to the donation, saying "not a single dollar or cent is from your (tithes), your offerings or building fund from the church account".

But the prosecution alleges that the $1.27 million was money which Mr Hanafi had originally donated to the church's building fund that was returned to him and he then re-donated to the Crossover cause.

THE XTRON BONDS

In 2003, music production company Xtron was set up to manage Ms Ho and the Crossover.

Crossover costs increased dramatically once the decision was made to enter the United States market, and Kong reportedly told the US producers to "be bold with (their) budgeting" and "plan as if the sky is the limit".

Noted music producers Wyclef Jean and Justin Herz were hired and it was recommended that Ms Ho try an "Asian-Reggae" fusion sound. It led to the making of China Wine, an English single released in 2007. Ms Ho was criticised over the risque music video.

Because of mounting expenses, and the fact that her earlier Mandarin albums were not making money, $13 million from CHC's building fund was allegedly poured into Xtron bonds - which would pay for Ms Ho's US album.

The court heard that funding was often channelled to Xtron discreetly. In one instance, CHC refunded a $674,700 donation that Mr Hanafi made earlier to the building fund, with the understanding that he would inject the money into Xtron.

Other church members were also supposedly encouraged to divert their tithes and donations to Xtron.

The firm was painted to auditors as an independent entity, but the prosecution said this was not so.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Mavis Chionh pointed out that Kong and his right-hand man, deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, not only made operational decisions, but also picked the company's top leadership.

Tan's lawyer N. Sreenivasan has called the tussle over Xtron's control a "red herring" and said in court that efforts by the church to distance itself from Xtron did not imply "dishonest intent".

The prosecution maintains that the bonds were a sham because they were effectively conduits for money to be funnelled to Ms Ho and there was no expectation they would be repaid. It also argues that the bond investments were not an authorised use of the building fund.

Both points have been hotly contested by the defence.

THE FIRNA BONDS

But in 2008, auditors raised related-party concerns over Xtron and CHC, so the church moved Ms Ho's management under Ultimate Assets (UA), a company owned by Mr Hanafi, so argues the prosecution.

A new round of alleged sham bonds into glass manufacturer Firna, which is owned by Mr Hanafi, was arranged.

But the role of Firna was "simply that of a conduit used for passing money" from the church's building fund to bankroll Ms Ho's career, said Ms Chionh earlier this year in court. In total, about $11 million would be drawn down under the Firna bond agreement.

That same year, when the defendants realised the initial Xtron bonds could not be repaid, they allegedly came up with a plan to buy an $18.2 million Riverwalk property. This was part of a revised loan agreement that subsumed the initial loan and gave Xtron 10 years to pay back everything.

ROUND-TRIPPING

In 2009, church auditor Sim Guan Seng met church leaders and reportedly said he "doesn't like the bonds" and wanted them off CHC's books.

The prosecution argues this set off an elaborate plan to cover up their initial misuse of funds - this round-tripping had been described as a "merry-go-round" by John Lam, CHC's former finance committee member, in court.

Through a series of transactions involving rental agreements and new investments, fresh funds from the church were used to offset the bonds.

Said the church's former investment manager Chew Eng Han: "But if money goes one round from CHC to Amac, to UA, to Firna and back to CHC, surely there can be no loss to the church."

Amac was the church's fund manager, and Chew was the one who devised the financial instruments.

The defence has pointed to the round-tripping as proof that the church "suffered no wrongful loss".

But the prosecution notes that the accused had also falsified their accounts with the intention to defraud their auditors.

FRIENDS TO ENEMIES

All defendants have maintained that they have done nothing wrong.

It would have been a united front, if not for Chew's departure from the church in 2013.

In court, Chew accused Kong of lying to church members about Ms Ho's success, which he said was "not real", and a result of church members spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy her CDs.

Chew, who is conducting his defence, told Kong: "One of the reasons I left your church is that I realised that you deceived... the people who are closest to you."

ALL IN GOOD FAITH

Will the defence's "good faith" argument convince the court?

At the closing, Ms Chionh asked: "The question that remains for Your Honour at the end of the day is: When did they act in good faith?"

Regardless of the result, CHC told The Straits Times that it has been "preparing itself for the conclusion of this court trial" and would continue its work in the local community and overseas missions.

During the church's service on Oct 10, Kong, too, said he had prepared training materials and charted out the church's direction for the future.

"If we have the worst possible outcome, you are ready for the next generation of leaders to take you forward... I have tried my level best to put everything in place," he said.





City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee and five others are accused of misusing millions of church money. After 140 days,...
Posted by The New Paper on Monday, October 19, 2015





The verdict will be delivered this Wednesday.
Posted by Yahoo Singapore on Monday, October 19, 2015





Not helping at all.
Posted by Mothership.sg on Tuesday, October 20, 2015





A look into City Harvest Church (Official) founder Kong Hee's mind in the final three days leading up to today's big verdict:
Posted by Mothership.sg on Tuesday, October 20, 2015





#CityHarvest trial: The prosecution's case against the 6. The verdict is expected today. Read the recap of the 140-day trial that has stretched across 3 years: http://bit.ly/1XiMLXU
Posted by Channel NewsAsia on Tuesday, October 20, 2015






City Harvest Trial: Who's who
The Straits Times, 21 Oct 2015

KONG HEE, 51
CHURCH FOUNDER AND SENIOR PASTOR

Faces three charges of criminal breach of trust.

Maintains that he and the other defendants had repeatedly sought and received assurance from lawyers and auditors that the financial transactions were above board.

Pointing to meetings with auditor Foong Daw Ching, Kong said: "If I have committed fraud, corruption and forgery, why would I want to see him?"

His lawyers highlighted how "no red flags" were raised by experts.

Kong also testified that he did his "level best" to recoup all the money put into Ms Ho Yeow Sun's US album. "Why? Because the church had invested its building fund in Xtron and I wanted to be sure the church suffered no loss."



TAN YE PENG, 42
DEPUTY SENIOR PASTOR

Faces six charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsification of accounts.

Tan, at times second only to Kong in the church, admitted that he was not trained in accounting. "In fact, when I was in university Year 1, I failed my accounts," he said once, to chuckles from the courtroom.

Still, he insisted strongly that he and the other defendants never thought what they did was illegal.

"In every aspect, we've never felt that we've done anything unauthorised," he said. "Till today, church members come to me and say, 'Pastor, hang in there'. No one says, 'Pastor, we've been deceived'."

His lawyer N. Sreenivasan has pointed out that neither the church nor the Commissioner of Charities has flagged the investment of building funds as an unauthorised use.

"The absence of dishonesty, the absence of a complainant and the reliance on professionals displaces the inference of dishonesty," he said.



SERINA WEE, 38
FORMER CHC FINANCE MANAGER

Faces six charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsification of accounts.

She was administrator of the Crossover Project and handled its accounts. She told the court it had been her dream to "become a church staff and serve God full-time".

"I'm not a pastor, I'm not a preacher, but one thing that I really enjoy doing, and I thought that I could do reasonably well, is accounts," said Wee, who started working at CHC in 1999 as an accountant.

Wee said she could never imagine that CHC leaders would do anything to harm the church, and her lawyer has said Wee had "no dishonest intent".

"It never crossed my mind that whatever... we were doing could possibly be violating the law," said Wee.



SHARON TAN, 40
CHC FINANCE MANAGER WHO TOOK OVER FROM WEE IN 2007

Faces three charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsification of accounts.

Tan said she had flagged concerns about the alleged round-tripping of church funds. But she said she was repeatedly assured by Wee, Chew and Tan that everything would be "okay".

Her lawyer Paul Seah said his client was "merely a worker taking instructions and carrying them out", adding that she had no motive to take part in a conspiracy.

"She did not take a cut from the proceeds. She was not going to get a pay rise or an extra bonus for what she did," he argued.



CHEW ENG HAN, 55
FORMER CHC FUND MANAGER

Faces six charges of criminal breach of trust and four charges of falsification of accounts.

Chew, who is conducting his own defence, has said the Crossover Project and music career of Ms Ho were the real shams, and not the bond investments he designed to support them.

The bonds had been drafted based on album sales projections from Kong, said Chew, who had relied on these projections to judge whether the bonds could be repaid.

Chew said even if church funds had been misused as alleged, the blame should lie with those deciding how to spend the money.

"Whether it was spent correctly or not... I think the right people have to account for it. And it's the people who had discretion and knowledge of their detailed spending items," he told the court.



JOHN LAM, 47
FORMER CHC FINANCE COMMITTEE MEMBER

Faces three charges of criminal breach of trust.

He said he believed the Xtron bonds were a sound investment because Ms Ho had successful previous albums, and he trusted Chew to have done due diligence.

Lam's lawyer Senior Counsel Kenneth Tan said his client was just "honestly trying as a volunteer, to fulfil his responsibilities" as a member of the church board and investment committee.





City Harvest trial: Most costly criminal trial in Singapore?
Legal costs in City Harvest case could shoot beyond $10 million, say lawyers
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2015

The City Harvest trial could go down as the most expensive criminal trial in Singapore's history.

After 141 days in court, all six defendants - including the church's founding pastor Kong Hee - were found guilty on Wednesday of varying counts of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts.

Senior lawyers The Straits Times spoke to said it would not be surprising if costs exceeded $2 million for each of the five defendants still being represented by lawyers. Four of these five are represented by Senior Counsel, regarded as the elite in the legal profession here, who can charge upwards of $1,000 an hour, said lawyers.

The remaining defendant, former church fund manager Chew Eng Han, has represented himself since May last year. Previously, he was represented by Senior Counsel Michael Khoo.

The defendants' lawyers declined to comment.

Chew, however, told The Straits Times that he had paid $1.1 million in legal fees so far. Of this, $400,000 came from a fund to which church members contributed, he said.

Put together, legal costs for the trial could shoot beyond $10 million, which would make it the most expensive criminal legal battle here, said experts.

The figure does not include the bail posted by each accused, which ranges from $750,000 to $1 million.

"It has been a very extensive and long trial that would require intensive preparation over a long period of time. So the legal fees would be quite substantial," said Senior Counsel Lok Vi Ming.

Other costly criminal battles include that of former Central Narcotics Bureau chief Ng Boon Gay, who was acquitted of corruption in 2013. It was estimated then that the trial could have cost over $1 million.

Lawyers' fees of more than $2 million per defendant add up to more than $10 million for the whole trial, not including bail which ranges from $750,000 to $1 million. http://str.sg/ZLXn
Posted by The Straits Times on Thursday, October 22, 2015


The City Harvest trial is also one of the longest criminal trials on record, though still not as long as a drug trafficking trial that ran for 168 days in the 1990s.

Veteran criminal lawyer Amolat Singh pointed out that with four Senior Counsel and their legal teams, costs would mount quickly.

"Everyone on the team has billable hours," he said, adding that the complexity of the trial is another big factor.

The prosecution alone called 14 witnesses and produced more than 1,400 documents.

"White-collar crime is always more complex than normal crime. For white-collar crime, you have so many angles, so many documents, so many vouchers - all these add to the complexity," said Mr Singh.

However, another veteran lawyer, who declined to be named, said if the $2 million in costs were averaged over the length of the trial, it would work out to a daily rate of about $14,000.

He said: "That's actually not unreasonable."

Meanwhile, despite the fact that in 2012, the Commissioner of Charities had warned the church against raising funds to pay the legal fees of the accused, former and current church members said independent efforts to raise funds have persisted.

Former member Nanz Chong-Komo, 46, said there were always "a lot of initiatives and encouragement" in church to help the defendants financially. She left the church in 2013.

Another church member, a prominent local businessman who declined to be named, confirmed this, and said he had personally given "a little bit".

This is more like a love offering, it's not a church thing. The (defendants) never solicited donations. People give of their own free will," he said.




Many ex-members believe decline began when criminal probe was launched in 2010. http://str.sg/ZLa5
Posted by The Straits Times on Friday, October 23, 2015





City Harvest Church sees 25% drop in members since 2009
Many ex-members believe decline began when criminal probe was launched in 2010
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2015

The six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders may have broken the law but they had good intentions and the interests of their church at heart, according to members who have stayed put even as the group awaits sentencing.

"We saw the start of the Cross- over Project and saw people blessed, lives changed and transformed directly because of the project," said music producer Eric Wong, 37, who has been at CHC for 17 years.

However, those who have left said they lost confidence in the leadership and that questions raised about financial mismanagement went unanswered.

On Wednesday, the courts found that the six accused - including founding pastor Kong Hee - had misused millions in church funds for the Crossover Project, a church mission to evangelise through the music career of Kong's pop singer wife Ho Yeow Sun.

The verdict ended a criminal investigation that began in 2010 - what many former members thought was the start of the decline of one of Singapore's biggest mega-churches.

In 2009, CHC was pulling a congregation of 23,565, according to figures from its annual reports.

That figure has been dwindling since, dropping to 17,522 last year - a decrease of more than 25 per cent from 2009.

What was it like in City Harvest Church? Something like this, probably.
Posted by Mothership.sg on Friday, October 23, 2015


Civil servant Melvin Lee, who left in 2013, pointed to inconsistencies between the court evidence and what was told to members in church. Kong "had told us that no church funds were used in the project, but it seems like church funds were in fact used", said the 27-year-old, who joined in 2003. "That's when I... decided to leave."

Businesswoman P.L. Toh, 51, said the Commissioner of Charities (COC) inquiry - which took place concurrently with criminal investigations - also unearthed misdeeds. For instance, it found at least $2.1 million of CHC funds was used to finance the Crossover Project under the guise of donations to its affiliated church in Kuala Lumpur.

"That's when I felt we were being manipulated... and at that point, all the scales were falling off (from my eyes)," said Ms Toh.

Former entrepreneur of the year Nanz Chong-Komo, 46, said: "The writing was on the wall - the people who stayed believed; the people who didn't stay stopped believing in the leadership."

But the faith of many of those who chose to say remains strong, it seems.

"We knew what the church was doing, and as to the character and integrity of our leaders, personally we never had a doubt," said bank executive Lester Chee, 26.

Other members said they had forged relationships and even found their life partners in church - and that leaving would be akin to walking out on their family.

"There is nowhere else to go for me; I found my family there. That has been the biggest impact on my life - it was about the relationships in church," said Mr Roger Ng, 26, who has been at CHC for 10 years.

Since 2012, CHC has had a new management and board running the operations of the church, led by Ms Ho, who was ordained as a pastor in August. She spearheads the new church vision, called CHC 2.0, which was formulated by Kong.

A long-time supporter of the church, entrepreneur Elim Chew, 48, said: "We have been at our lowest and the only way forward is up. We trust our leadership and board to run the church just as they have done so for the last three years."









Idea was to spread Gospel via pop music
By Ng Huiwen, The Sunday Times, 25 Oct 2015

The City Harvest Church trial, which fascinated Singaporeans and attracted worldwide attention with its heady mix of faith, money and fraud, apparently had its roots in one simple desire - to reach out to non-Christians all over the world through music.

But it led to the misuse of $50 million in church funds, and conviction of six church leaders, including founding pastor Kong Hee.

He and his wife Ho Yeow Sun first toyed with the idea of spreading the Gospel using pop music in 1999, when they began to modify the lyrics of secular songs to include Christian messages.

Buoyed by the positive response to her performances, Kong thought it viable for his wife to record an album of contemporary Christian music. But a Taiwanese music producer told Kong that Ms Ho had the potential to be a secular music artist.

In 2002, the Crossover Project to spread the church's message through pop music was born.

Later that year, Ms Ho made her Mandopop debut with her album Sun With Love, which quickly sold some 50,000 copies in the Taiwanese market and more than 30,000 in Singapore.

More popularly known by her stage name Sun Ho, she kept to her then wholesome image, fronting the album cover with a close-up of her barely made-up face, complete with freckles.

Her fame was further secured with the release of her second album the same year. Titled SunDay, it beat Taiwanese boy band 5566 and homegrown singer Stefanie Sun to win Best Selling Album of the Year at the Singapore Hit Awards in 2003.

Both albums were directly funded by CHC, an arrangement that soon ended in 2003 after a former church member alleged that church money had been used to boost her career.

Ho Yeow Sun wanted to be a pop star but also someone who could use her celebrity status to promote the church she co-founded.But did she have a real shot at making it big?
Posted by The New Paper on Saturday, October 24, 2015


With the media spotlight trained on the church and its use of funds, Kong decided that the church should be much more discreet in how it funded the Crossover Project. Music production company Xtron was set up in June 2003, and on the same day, Ms Ho was signed on as an artist. Previously, she was managed by City Harvest Pte Ltd and Attributes Pte Ltd, both subsidiaries of CHC.

Thus it fell to Xtron to finance her music career, and it did so particularly through donations by individuals. Often, donations which would otherwise have been made to the church's building fund were instead redirected to Xtron.

The firm also received revenue directly from CHC by sub-leasing a hall at the Singapore Expo to the church for its weekend services and providing audio-visual and lighting services, which the church did in-house before, for a monthly fee.

While Ms Ho's third album Lonely Travel, released in 2003, also sold more than 30,000 copies here, her fourth and fifth albums fared considerably poorer, selling only 5,000 to 10,000 copies.

In March 2003, Kong went to the US to preach as a guest speaker in a church and told its pastor, who formerly worked in the entertainment business, about the Crossover Project. Intrigued by its concept, she encouraged Kong to take the project over to the US and even circulated samples of Ms Ho's music among her industry friends.

It was through her that Kong got to know music producer Justin Herz, who once worked for MTV. The US phase of the Crossover Project was launched in 2003.

Over the next seven years, Ms Ho released several English singles, five of which made it to the Top 10 of Billboard's Hot Dance Club Songs. Each single stayed on the charts for between 13 and 16 weeks.

In June 2005, Kong and Mr Herz finally firmed up plans to release Ms Ho's debut US album by March 2006. However, Mr Herz later insisted the album was not ready and Kong deferred to his advice.

In May that year, Grammy-winning producer and Fugees co-founder Wyclef Jean, who commanded a fee of US1.5 million (S$1.9 million), was brought in.

It was a move that substantially increased the amount of money needed to fund her album, which was expected to cost more than $11 million. The CHC leaders believed that Jean's involvement would eventually help to sell the album's projected 1.5 million copies.

By then, Ms Ho had long shed her clean girl-next-door image for a strong dare-to-bare attitude.

Tongues wagged, especially when she appeared in a slinky red Armani dress with a plunging neckline at a Hollywood event in 2003.

However, Ms Ho's English single China Wine and its music video - a collaboration with Jean in 2007 - attracted the most attention.

In the video, she adopts a persona called Geisha and prances about in a racy midriff-baring top and micro hot pants.

Other music videos such as the reggae-inspired Mr Bill (2009) also feature Ms Ho in tight, revealing outfits. In the song, she talks about killing her fictional husband, Bill, and "sending him to the cemetery" for making her "cook and clean".

Both videos were heavily criticised for their negative portrayal of the Asian stereotype.

Plenty of eyebrows were also raised over her lifestyle in the US, where she lived in an upscale area of Los Angeles where the likes of Brad Pitt resided, in a house supposedly costing more than $20,000 a month.

It was later revealed in the trial that Xtron was bleeding heavily, and that even her Mandarin albums incurred losses.

In his written judgment, Judge See Kee Oon decided that Ms Ho's perceived success was "inflated".

In fact, Xtron and the Crossover team had relied heavily on sponsorship from CHC members or supporters to prop up her Mandarin album sales and promote her career.

It was thus "no more than optimistic hope" to believe that her debut US album would be able to sell more than 200,000 copies, as Kong and the other five church leaders had so fervently expected.

Ms Ho's failed pop career was played up in several foreign media reports on the guilty verdicts.

The BBC detailed how she was restyled as a "vampy rapper-singer" in 2007 and produced singles which met with limited success.

Britain's The Telegraph also shone the spotlight on Ms Ho's pop star ambitions, which Kong claimed was part of the church's mission to evangelise through her music.

"The evangelical message of the brash videos with international music and modelling stars was not immediately clear," it wrote.





"I'm so sorry for all the pain and turmoil that you have had to endure under my leadership, under my watch": Kong Hee speaking at a City Harvest Church (Official) service last night. http://bit.ly/1Wbn2DJ
Posted by Channel NewsAsia on Saturday, October 24, 2015







Kong Hee has apologised to church members for the "pain and turmoil" they had to endure, and was met with applause. http://str.sg/ZLRF
Posted by The Straits Times on Saturday, October 24, 2015





Kong Hee tells church members: Pastor is sorry
He apologises for the 'pain and turmoil' they had to endure amid trial over misuse of church funds
By Ng Huiwen, The Sunday Times, 25 Oct 2015

Standing alone under the bright lights of a sleek stage yesterday, City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee faced a packed auditorium at Suntec convention centre, took a deep bow, and said: "Pastor is sorry."

He apologised for the "pain and turmoil" members of his church had to endure over the past few years, and bowed three more times in different directions as the congregation stood up and applauded for a good length of time.

Kong, 51, was speaking at the church's first service since he and five other church leaders were found guilty last week of misusing around $50 million of church monies to fund his wife's pop music career and to cover up the misdeeds. They will find out their sentences on Nov 20 at the earliest.

Yesterday evening's service at the sixth level of the convention centre began with songs of worship. About 40 minutes later, Kong took the stage.

The others involved in the case - other than former CHC investment manager Chew Eng Han - were sitting in the front rows.

The City Harvest Church founder also bowed thrice and apologised for the 'pain and turmoil' that members of his church had to endure over the past few years. http://str.sg/ZLrx
Posted by The Straits Times on Saturday, October 24, 2015


Kong told the youthful crowd of churchgoers that the church's future was secure, "because of you and the new leadership that has been put in place". He added: "Out of the ashes, we will rise."

Executive pastor Aries Zulkarnain later went on stage and said that while he was saddened by the verdict, he respected Judge See Kee Oon's decision.

Excerpts of the judge's written grounds were flashed on screens and Mr Zulkarnain explained parts of them to the congregation.

He also described how the church would improve its governance as it moves forward with a new "CHC 2.0" vision.

This would involve selecting well-diversified board members, appointing a legal firm to advise the board, setting up an internal compliance team and also carrying out an annual audit using an outsourced firm.

As Mr Zulkarnain led the church in prayer, an image of former CHC finance manager Serina Wee, one of those found guilty, was shown on the big screen. She was sobbing.

Here's a blow-by-blow account of how Kong Hee apologised to his City Harvest Church (Official) congregation on Saturday night and Sunday morning:
Posted by Mothership.sg on Saturday, October 24, 2015


American pastor A.R. Bernard also gave a sermon on keeping trust in spite of tribulations.

Kong and his wife Ho Yeow Sun closed the service with a song. Ms Ho, the church's executive director, said: "Thank you for being here, for being courageous and supportive. Thank you for your love. It has made a difference for all of us and our family members. Thank you, thank you, thank you."





To some, it is possible to do no wrong.
Posted by Mothership.sg on Wednesday, October 28, 2015






“I pray when she speaks, fire will come out of her belly,” said CHC founder Kong Hee.
Posted by Yahoo Singapore on Thursday, October 29, 2015






【今日强打】城市丰收教会的40名教友,三年来捐赠近300万元“爱的礼物”,资助康希和何耀珊的生活费,浑然不知钱用在何耀珊出游、吃喝和美发化妆等开销。详文:http://wanbao.com.sg/local/story20151108-68030#local
Posted by Lianhe Wanbao 联合晚报 on Saturday, November 7, 2015






Kong Hee and Sun Ho paid for expenses from account made up of "Love Gift" donations
City Harvest Church founder and wife paid for expenses from multi-purpose account made up of  church members' donations
By Ng Jun Sen and Ronald Loh, The New Paper, 8 Nov 2015

Travel expenditure that ran into the hundreds of thousands.

Hair, make-up and medical costs that hit more than $100,000.

Although City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee and his wife Ho Yeow Sun had struck their names off the church payroll in 2005, they had "love gifts" from a few churchgoers, which paid for such expenses.

As a singer, Ms Ho was earning more than $400,000 a year and this came from these gifts.

But the donors who gave the gifts did not know that Ms Ho had earned so much, Kong admitted in court.

The New Paper on Sunday examined court documents and learnt that the couple earned a total of around $1.4 million from 2006 to 2009 from her music artiste salary, royalties and bonuses.

But this money did not come from her artiste management firms, Xtron Productions and Ultimate Assets, as they wanted to reinvest the earnings back into the companies.

Instead, the monies were transferred to Kong and Ms Ho from a fund known as the multi-purpose account (MPA), made up of "love gifts" from church members, Kong said in court.

The MPA, which was set up in 2006 and closed in 2010, is shrouded in secrecy.

Only a handful of church members who were closest to Kong Hee knew of its existence.

Revelations about the MPA were made during court proceedings.

Kong said in court: "For the MPA, it is more for the livelihood of me and Sun... and for other non-music production expenses in the US because we are off the church's salary."

One document showed what the money was spent on in that period - more than $300,000 was spent on travel, more than $100,000 on food and close to $100,000 on hair and make-up.

All these were paid for by around 40 of the couple's closest supporters, whose regular donations contributed nearly $3 million to the fund from 2006 to 2009.

Some of those who gave "love gifts" cut back on tithes to the church while others stopped completely, according to the Commissioner of Charities (COC) inquiry in 2012.

COC found that about $600,000 was purportedly spent by Kong Hee and $3 million by Sun Ho from the MPA between April 2007 and March 2010.

Kong, who had told the media in 2005 his salary was $8,000 a month before he took himself off the payroll that year, also earned an average of US$360,000 (S$500,000) per year from his speaking engagements. He also made money from merchandise sales.

Travel expenditure that ran into the hundreds of thousands. Hair, make-up and medical costs that hit more than...
Posted by The New Paper on Saturday, November 7, 2015


TROUBLE

Globally, love gifts have landed church leaders in trouble over tax evasion and fraud charges.

In Charlotte, US, Reverend Anthony Jinwright and his wife Harriet of the Greater Salem City of God church were jailed in 2009 after their expensive cars and vacations were found to be paid for by "love gifts" from the church.

MPA donor and fellow accused Chew Eng Han accused Kong of being more interested in personal gain than the interests of the church by pointing out discrepancies in the MPA in court.

While most MPA donors have kept silent, The New Paper on Sunday tracked down blogger Lu Jiahui, who claimed to be one.

The mother of three, whose blog is called Mum's The Word, tells TNPS: "The choice was given to us and it was also explained to us where the money would go.

"I made the decision that it was okay, because this is my money and I know where I want it to go. I gave with my free will. No one forced me to do it."

She declines to reveal how much she donated to the MPA over the years, but claims it did not affect her tithes to the church.

Ms Lu decided to write about MPA on her blog to defend her former pastor against Chew's allegations.

"I think I was the only one to come out publicly to say I am an MPA donor. Why? Because if I didn't, people would just be hearing about it from Eng Han."

She explains her decision to donate to the account, knowing that it was meant to pay for Kong's and Sun's living expenses.

Ms Lu says: "Think about this as though you are contributing to your boss' birthday and you can give however much you want. Someone sets up a birthday fund for the office and the money is put in there.

"Eventually, whether the money is spent on the birthday cake or the decorations is besides the point. I just know that I gave the money away as a birthday present, and I trust the person to handle it."

The multi-purpose account (MPA) was set up in 2006 to support the livelihoods of City Harvest Church (CHC) founder Kong Hee and his wife, Ms Ho Yeow Sun.

This private fund was financed by 28 couples and a few other individuals but its full amount or how the money was used was never fully disclosed - not even to the donors.

This means they allegedly did not know that Ms Ho pocketed about $450,000 in "salaries, bonuses and royalties" from the MPA each year from 2007 till 2009.

This was Kong's own admission in court in August last year during the criminal trial involving him and five other CHC leaders.

Kong told the court - as former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han cross-examined him - that he and Ms Ho went off the church's payroll in 2005.

The MPA was later created and funded by about 40 donors, including Chew. They deposited over $700,000 into the MPA each year from 2007 to 2009.

Kong said: "All the donors, they knew that it's a freewill giving, we didn't coerce them, we didn't force them.

"Some of them did indicate that we should use it for nothing else except for our own livelihood. We always treated this as a third-party fund with accountability... We do not use it in a cavalier fashion."

He added that the money was primarily used for his wife and his livelihood as well as for the Crossover Project's expenses.

But Chew accused Kong of withholding the account's full details in 2010 by hiding the royalties, salaries and bonuses from the spreadsheet showed to donors and showing a deficit instead, so they would be spurred to give more money.

Chew said: "You defrauded the MPA givers by hiding the royalties and the salaries and the bonuses from the spreadsheet which you showed to them, so that they would be emotionally led to contribute more to you and to Sun."

Kong said his wife did not want the joint venture between her artist management company and Justin Hertz Management to pay for her royalties so the money could be maximised for the music album production.

Kong also claimed Xtron was tight with cash so his wife had to rely on the MPA as well. His wife then took out what she would have earned from the MPA instead of Xtron's accounts.

He also said he hid the figures from donors in 2008 because he did not have a chance to check with his wife whether she was comfortable revealing her salaries and royalties.

Kong said: "We do have a culture in CHC, as in many companies, that we keep our income as confidential."

The donors stopped giving to the MPA in 2010 after the Commercial Affairs Department's raid on CHC.

Gift or income?

While donations to a church fund or a private trust fund are not taxed, the "love gifts" received by religious leaders are, IRAS tells The New Paper on Sunday.

Corporate lawyer Robson Lee from Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, explains: "The donors are not relatives, they are church devotees.

"The only reason why they give (to the MPA) is because they are the pastors... Otherwise, they would donate to the church.

"Unless the fund is open to all other devotees, for example, to help out in mishaps in their lives, then you can say that this is an exclusive pool of money meant solely for one or two persons.

"Then, this (MPA) would be an income structure instead of a gift... Such a 'love gift' system should not be exempted from review by inland revenue."




Do you know what is "prosperity gospel"?
Posted by Mothership.sg on Tuesday, November 10, 2015





Controversy over City Harvest Church's 'prosperity gospel'
Ex-members, other pastors publicly speak out about church's questionable practices
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 11 Nov 2015

Former church members and some pastors have publicly questioned some practices at City Harvest Church (CHC), after several of its leaders were found guilty on Oct 21 of misusing church funds.

Senior Pastor of Cornerstone Community Church Yang Tuck Yoong wrote an online note to his congregation, saying CHC's founding pastor Kong Hee had not taken heed of the proverb which says "a good name is to be chosen rather than great riches".

He added that he was grieved many people had "left the faith, backslid, stumbled, or who had been so disillusioned by the whole fiasco".

Kong, 51, was among six church leaders who were convicted of misusing millions in church funds to bankroll his wife Ho Yeow Sun's music career. They are due back in court next Friday for sentencing submissions.

Mr Yang told The Straits Times he got to know Kong when they were both attending the Marine Parade Christian Centre in the 1980s. Kong had assisted him in running the youth ministry at the church, he said.

The duo had disagreed on "theological standpoints" in the past, Mr Yang said.

"We've a saying that 'theology breeds methodology', and their position on the Crossover Project might have led to some practices in the church that have now come into question by the courts," he said, referring to CHC's project to evangelise through the music of Ms Ho.

Pastor Aaron Ho from Saint Andrew's Secondary School had written in his blog that trying to evangelise through Ms Ho's controversial music career was "questionable at the very least".

"The principle is this - you cannot compromise the gospel in order to share the gospel," he wrote.

Controversy over City Harvest church's 'prosperity gospel': "The principle is this - you cannot compromise the gospel in order to share the gospel," said one pastor. str.sg/ZEVE
Posted by The Straits Times on Tuesday, November 10, 2015


Former members also told The Straits Times about practices in church, saying they felt compelled to give donations, had their whereabouts constantly monitored by church members, or were pressured into buying Ms Ho's music albums.

One former member, who wanted to be known only as Mr Khoo, said his cell group leaders had questioned him about his monthly allowance because they suspected he was "under-contributing" in his tithes and offerings.

"At that point of time, I was still a student, but I was driving my dad's car - I think they felt I was quite well-to-do," said Mr Khoo, 27, who left the church about three years ago.

Making a donation is a personal choice, he said, adding that contributions were noted on envelopes and tracked by cell group leaders.

CHC preaches the "prosperity gospel", which teaches that one would be rewarded materially and spiritually if they gave financially to God.

Another former member, Ms Geraldine Sim, said she was expected to report daily via SMS to a "mentor" on her whereabouts, and was once told off when she was spotted watching a movie with a male friend.

The 27-year-old digital content editor related her time in CHC in a blog which was shared widely. She attended CHC for about two years, joining it at the age of 15.

Whenever Ms Ho released a music album, pastors would "encourage" members to buy it, said Ms Sim. She added: "There were extreme examples. At a meeting, we were told one of the cell group leaders had sold his car so he could buy more albums. It was like 'See, our brother, he sacrificed for God'."

Undergraduate Samuel Wee, 25, said giving to the church was regularly emphasised.

"It was an environment where financial contribution was constantly portrayed as a positive thing you do to be a good Christian, and for your own good, to enrich yourself spiritually and financially," said Mr Wee, who left the church in 2009.

When approached, CHC declined to comment. The National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) said many churches encourage regular giving, but "coercion is not helpful if it were true".

NCCS president Reverend Wee Boon Hup said worshippers were free to join other churches if they did not agree with CHC's practices.

He said: "NCCS expects member churches to be responsible in the raising and management of their funds, following accepted principles of governance as required by the Commissioner of Charities."





City Harvest trial: Prosecution calls for 11 to 12 years' jail for Kong Hee and church leaders

It asks that 4 leaders be jailed 11 to 12 years each; sentencing could be as early as Friday
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 17 Nov 2015

The Public Prosecutor has asked for stiff sentences for all six City Harvest Church (CHC) leaders, including the recommendation that church founder Kong Hee be sentenced to 11 to 12 years in jail, The Straits Times has learnt.

The six were found guilty last month of misusing some $50 million in church funds.

Of that, $24 million was used to bankroll the music career of Kong's wife, singer-pastor Ho Yeow Sun.

Apart from Kong, 51, the prosecution also recommended a jail sentence of 11 to 12 years each for deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 43; former CHC finance manager Serina Wee, 38; and former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 55.

For former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 47, the prosecution asked for a jail sentence of eight to nine years.

The lightest sentence of five to six years was reserved for former CHC finance manager Sharon Tan, 40.

The prosecution handed in its written submissions on sentencing to the court on Nov 6.

The six are due back in court on Friday for oral submissions on sentencing.

It is the earliest date for the court to pass a sentence.


City Harvest trial: Prosecution calls for Kong Hee and other church leaders to be jailed 11 to 12 years each. str.sg/Za8B
Posted by The Straits Times on Monday, November 16, 2015


For the moment, only Kong and Chew have indicated that they are likely to appeal.

"I think it's likely (for Kong to appeal) but I can't confirm right now; realistically, we have to see what happens on Friday," said Kong's lawyer, Mr Jason Chan.

Chew told The Straits Times: "I am standing by my defence and what I testified during the trial, and will make an appeal."

The defence has told the court repeatedly that CHC suffered no loss and the six accused had not profited from their crimes.

The church leaders were found guilty of varying counts of criminal breach of trust and falsifying accounts.

A maximum cumulative sentence of 20 years can be imposed on the accused, in addition to a fine.

Kong faced only three charges of criminal breach of trust, which along with Lam, was the lowest number faced by the six accused.

But in his written judgment, Presiding Judge See Kee Oon pointed to Kong as the key man behind the scandal, writing that the charismatic church pastor had "acted consciously and dishonestly".

"Kong Hee maintains that he is a pastor and not an expert in legality.

"But one does not need to be an expert in legality to appreciate certain fundamental aspects of honesty, truth and integrity," the judge wrote.

Judge See added that the group used their positions in the church to shroud their crimes in secrecy.

"When shrouded under a cloak of invisibility, much like the mythical ring of Gyges, persons in such positions of power have no fear of accountability and tend to become their own worst enemies," he wrote.

The ring of Gyges is a mythical artefact that grants its wearer the power to become invisible at will.

It was mentioned in Greek philosopher Plato's Republic.

He wrote: "It has thus been wisely said that the real tragedy is when men are afraid of the light, and if they choose not to come into the light they do so for fear that their deeds will be exposed, as they surely will in time."





Related
City Harvested
City Harvest case: '$50m misused'
City: Harvest is ours
Kong Hee sentenced to 8 years in prison, 5 others get between 21 months and 6 years
City Harvest Church Trial

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