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City Harvest Church interests always placed above Crossover Project: Kong

City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee also told the court that the 2008 scandal involving Ren Ci founder Shi Ming Yi troubled him, and spurred him to make sure the church's transactions were above board.  

SINGAPORE: Taking the stand on Wednesday (Aug 13), City Harvest Church founder Kong Hee said he and his deputies had nothing to hide, and sought to show that they had always been transparent about the church's financial transactions to lawyers and auditors.

In 2008, Ren Ci Hospital's founder and former chief executive Shi Ming Yi was charged with misappropriating funds, among other things. Troubled by the scandal, Kong said he instructed the church's senior management to meet auditor Foong Daw Ching, in order to review its transactions and ensure they were above board.

Of particular concern was the church's investment in Xtron - the firm which managed the music career of Kong's wife, Sun Ho. Xtron is one of two church-linked firms alleged to have helped Kong and his deputies misuse church monies to fund Ms Ho's music career.

Kong told the court he wanted to be sure that the church was "in compliance with the law of the land, that we will not be found wanting for fraud, corruption or forgery ... I needed to satisfy myself that everything was done properly, everything was done above board".

Kong reiterated that Foong had full visibility of the church's financial transactions, and that it had nothing to hide. For example, Kong said Mr Foong knew that Xtron had been making losses. "If I have committed fraud, corruption and forgery, why would I want to see him?  I would want to stay away from him," Kong said. "But I wanted my team to go and see him, to be open with him and let him advise us."

Kong said the church's plans - including those concerning the bond transactions - were also vetted by lawyers and auditors before they were proceeded with, and that he was determined that the church not suffer financial loss because it had invested money from its building fund into Xtron bonds.

Proceeds from the investment were used to support Ms Ho's album, which was part of the Crossover Project - the church's way of evangelising through secular pop music. Kong said he always prioritised the church's interests over his vision for the Crossover Project, even if it meant parting ways with well-known songwriter and producer Wyclef Jean, who Kong believed could have made Ms Ho's debut English-language album a success.

Kong said her success as a pop singer would have opened more doors for the church's missionary work. But Jean's high asking fee of between US$4.5 to US$5 million (S$5.6 to S$6.2 million), and increased marketing costs, made him concerned that Xtron would not be able to recover its investment.

"I did not think this was reasonable, and it caused the whole project to become unbalanced. I cannot subject Xtron to such a risk where they can't pay back the bonds and cause the church a loss," he said.