Singapore police arrested Kong Hee, the founder of a church in the Asian city whose pop singer wife Ho Yeow Sun has performed with artists like Wyclef Jean, for allegedly falsifying accounts.
Kong, the senior pastor and president of the City Harvest Church’s management board, was arrested with four others, including the vice president and finance manager, the police said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
“Financial irregularities of at least S$23 million ($18 million) from the charity’s funds have been discovered,” the Commissioner of Charities said in a separate statement on its website yesterday. “These funds were used with the purported intention to finance Ho Yeow Sun’s secular music career to connect with people,” according to the statement.
Singapore’s white-collar crime agency the Commercial Affairs Department and the charities’ commissioner in May 2010 started investigating the church, which was attended by 23,236 followers as of December 2010, according to its website. Kong will be charged in court today, the police statement said.
“There is no case that is being brought against the church,” Executive Pastor Aries Zulkarnain said in a statement on City Harvest’s website. “The church management board continues to provide guidance on the running of the church,” adding that weekend services will continue as usual.
The charities regulator suspended Kong, his wife, who also goes by the name Sun Ho, and six others from executive roles or employment at the church, according to the commissioner’s statement, which lists Ho as an agent and executive member of City Harvest. The church, registered as a charity since 1993, had earnings of about S$72 million for the year ended Oct. 31, 2009, according to the regulator of charities.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said in a statement that the church is free to continue with its services as the charges are against the five individuals.
“We should let the law take its course and avoid speculation or making pre-judgments that may unnecessarily stir up emotions,” Teo said in the statement.
Kong withdrew from City Harvest’s payroll in November 2005 and started his own business, according to a statement on the church’s website.
In April 2010, City Harvest proposed in a notice to its members to spend S$310 million for a stake in the downtown Suntec convention center, as well as rents and renovation costs related to the use of that space for its services.
The church said in the statement it bought a “substantial minority stake” in the convention center and the return on the investment will cover its annual rents. The property is partly owned by Suntec REIT.
The arrests come five years after the National Kidney Foundation’s former chief executive officer TT Durai was sentenced to three months in jail for knowingly intending to deceive the charity with an invoice containing a false statement. The case led to changes in the regulation of charities and a new board of directors was appointed after an audit of the kidney foundation found several shortcomings.
In 2008, Ren Ci Hospital & Medicare Centre was investigated by the Health Ministry and the white collar criminal agency on discrepancies in the charity’s finances.