The founder and senior pastor of Singapore’s City Harvest Church was charged with three counts of dishonestly using the charity’s funds to finance his wife’s singing career.
Kong Hee, whose wife Ho Yeow Sun has performed with artists like Wyclef Jean, conspired with others to conceal the diversion of the funds, prosecutor Christopher Ong told a Singapore Subordinate Court today.
Financial irregularities of at least S$23 million ($18 million) from the charity’s funds were discovered, Singapore’s Commissioner of Charities said in a statement on its website yesterday. Kong, who was the 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.
Kong, 47, didn’t enter a plea and posted S$500,000 bail. He declined to speak to reporters after the hearing. He faces a jail term of as long as 20 years and a fine for each charge if convicted.
“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.
Kong withdrew from City Harvest’s payroll in November 2005 and started his own business, according to a statement on the church’s website.
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.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said in a statement yesterday 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.
The case comes 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.