Singapore’s City Harvest Church denied allegations it was cheated of more than S$50 million ($39 million) and said it stood by its founder and four others charged with dishonestly using its funds.
“No personal profit was gained by the individuals concerned,” Executive Pastor Aries Zulkarnain said in an e-mailed statement yesterday night.
Kong Hee, the founder and senior pastor of the church and four of its other officers were charged in Singapore’s Subordinate Court this week with conspiracy to misuse S$50.6 million of the church’s funds, including using a portion of the money to finance the music career of Ho Yeow Sun, Kong’s wife. Ho hasn’t been charged with any offence.
Kong, 47, faces three counts of dishonestly using S$24 million to promote his wife. Another S$26.6 million was used and “round-tripped” through a series of complex financial transactions in a bid to conceal the misuse of the funds, according to prosecutors.
The S$24 million, which went to investment bonds, was returned to the church in full, with interest, Zulkarnain said in the statement. The church didn’t lose any funds and stands by its members who have been charged, he said.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers declined to comment in an e-mailed statement on the church’s response as the matter is before the court.
Kong, who is out on S$500,000 bail, didn’t enter a plea on June 27. He faces a jail term of as long as 20 years and an unspecified fine for each charge if convicted. 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 began investigating the church, which had 23,236 followers as of December 2010, according to its website.
City Harvest is acting on the recommendations of its external auditor, which did a “full internal audit,” and has replaced half the board with new members in the past two years, Bobby Chaw, said in a statement on behalf of the church’s board.
The charities’ regulator said on June 26 it suspended Kong, his wife, and six others from executive roles or employment at the church. 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.
City Harvest embarked on a “Crossover Project,” using the music of Kong’s wife to engage people and places that it would otherwise have difficulty reaching, the church said in yesterday’s statement.
Kong’s wife has performed with artists like Wyclef Jean and sang the theme song for the 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games in Shanghai.
“The church states that the Crossover Project is not about one person’s singing career,” according to the statement. “It is a mission that is fundamental to the congregation.”
The criminal case is: Prosecutor v. Kong Hee. DAC023148/2012. Singapore Subordinate Courts.