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THE six leaders of one of Singapore's megachurches, City Harvest Church (CHC), have been found guilty of misusing millions of church funds to boost the secular music career of singer Sun Ho.
Kong Hee and five others have been convicted of doing so through sham bond investments and round-tripping.
City Harvest founder and senior pastor Kong, 51; deputy senior pastor Tan Ye Peng, 42; former CHC fund manager Chew Eng Han, 55; former CHC finance managers Serina Wee, 38, and Sharon Tan, 40; and former CHC finance committee member John Lam, 47, have been accused of misappropriating S$24 million in church funds.
"I am satisfied that six accused persons are guilty of all the charges against them," said Judge See Kee Oon in his verdict on Wednesday.
"No matter how pure the motive ... these do not exonerate accused persons," he added.
Five of the six, including Kong, are said to have misused S$24 million to fuel the short-lived music career of Ms Ho, who is Kong's wife, while four of the six allegedly misappropriated some S$26 million by falsifying accounts to cover up the first sum.
The trial, which started in May 2013, following investigations by the Commercial Affairs Department into certain financial transactions of the church in May 2010, has caught the public's attention.
Many people have started queuing outside the Court as early as 5am on Wednesday, for a ticket to enter the public gallery.
However, about 50-odd members of the public, including church supporters, managed to enter the court room, ahead of the verdict of the long-running City Harvest trial.
Judge See said the "round-tripping of funds" was used to "create an appearance of genuine transactions", and "the accused persons controlled these transactions every step of the way".
He said the accused engaged in conspiracies to defraud and falsify accounts.
"If it can be shown that they were doing was legitimate I think there may well be room for doubt, but the weight of evidence shows they were acting dishonestly."
The saga started in 2002 when CHC began the Crossover Project, a mission to evangelise through Ms Ho's pop music.
At first, Ms Ho's career was funded directly by the church, but in 2003, disgruntled church member Roland Poon made public allegations that funds were being misused to bankroll Ms Ho's career. He later retracted his statements and apologised, but the uncomfortable scrutiny set off a chain of events that would lead to the six accused being arrested in 2012.
Sentencing willl be on a later date. According to Singapore Statutes Online, criminal breach of trust carries a life sentence or a jail term of up to 20 years, and a fine. The falsification of accounts carries a jail term of up to 10 years and a fine.