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Verdict, finally, for long-drawn case against City Harvest leaders

Church founder Kong Hee and his five deputies will know their fate on Wednesday

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City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee (centre in white) leaving the Subordinate Courts on Jun 27, 2012. The six leaders of City Harvest Church are scheduled to find out on Wednesday if they can heave a sigh of relief, after their painstakingly long trial which lasted more than two years.

Singapore

THE six leaders of City Harvest Church are scheduled to find out on Wednesday if they can heave a sigh of relief, after their painstakingly long trial which lasted more than two years.

Church founder Kong Hee and his five deputies - Tan Ye Peng, Chew Eng Han, John Lam, Sharon Tan and Serina Wee - are fighting allegations that they conspired to misuse church funds to the tune of millions of dollars to further the music career of singer Sun Ho, who's also Kong's wife.

Five of the six, including Kong, are said to have misused S$24 million to fuel Ho's short-lived music career, while four of the six allegedly misappropriated some S$26 million by falsifying accounts to cover up the first sum.

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Right off the bat, the saga - involving leaders of one of Singapore's megachurches - packed enough drama to set tongues wagging incessantly, from the Commercial Affairs Department's investigations into certain financial transactions of the church in May 2010 to the six leaders being hauled to court to be charged two years later.

Naturally, the trial, which started in May 2013, caught the attention of many and the public gallery was packed for weeks, with some queueing outside the State Courts for a ticket to enter the courtroom.

In the days that followed, barbs were traded between the prosecution and the defence, and Ms Ho's pop music career - five Mandarin albums released between 2002 and 2007, and a yet-to-be-released English album - came under intense scrutiny.

The court was told that Ms Ho's foray into the US market involved a marketing budget of more than S$10 million and was described as being "in line with Shakira's marketing budget and less than the budget for Beyonce".

Email correspondences submitted in court showed that Kong had told the American music producers to "plan as if the sky's the limit" in their budgeting.

The push to promote Ms Ho's pop music is part of the Crossover Project to reach out to non-Christians.

Kong and his deputies had maintained that the board and church members knew about and supported the project, in which they poured millions into financing Ms Ho's secular music to evangelise. A key defence was that the six accused had acted on the advice of their lawyers and auditors, who cleared those financial transactions in question.

But the prosecution's position is that the six were sophisticated liars and had conspired to channel the monies to boost Ms Ho's career via "sham bond investments". Its case is that the group had "round-tripped" transactions to cover up the misdeed.

Whichever way the verdict swings, parties can still lodge an appeal so the finale might just be delayed.

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