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City Harvest trial: Kong Hee takes the stand to defend church's Crossover Project

Efforts to reach individuals through secular music saw church grow "exponentially", with almost a third of the 109,000 people at such concerts worldwide accepting the message of the Gospel, City Harvest's founder says.

SINGAPORE: As City Harvest Church's congregation grew, founder Kong Hee said his role evolved from that of a "shepherd" to being a "rancher".

Kong was speaking in court on Monday (Aug 11) about the growth of the church and how his role in it transformed, given an increasingly heavy travel schedule due to his role as the church's "chief missionary", and his overseas missionary work commitments.

Between 2008 and 2009 - before investigations commenced in 2010 - Kong said he would spend most of each month out of Singapore. Because he was not around as often as before, Kong said he trusted members of the church board, including his co-accused, the church's lawyers and auditors to flag any issues that arose.

Still, in opening remarks to the court, Kong's defence counsel Edwin Tong said: "He (Kong) will not seek to distance himself from the transactions which have taken place. He will give clear consistent evidence of what he knows, and what he did."

Kong told the court he got "very edgy" every time a charity got into trouble, and he wanted - in his absence - for the church's account to be able to withstand scrutiny by any watchdog or authority.

In 2003, the church engaged a senior counsel on a retainer basis, to shore up its corporate governance. This was following allegations by then-church member Roland Poon, who alleged that church funds were used to finance Ms Sun Ho's career. He later retracted his allegations and made public apologies.

Kong said the incident was a "wake-up call" for the church, highlighting the reality that it was difficult to manage and control what takes place in the public domain. Mr Jimmy Yim from Drew and Napier was then engaged to inject "rigidity and structure" to the church's corporate governance, and the relationship continued till 2010.

Auditor Foong Daw Ching's name was mentioned numerous times by Kong throughout the day, and he described the auditor as both a dear friend, and an "ultra-conservative consultant". Kong said he felt happy and assured that the church's financial and audit matters were being looked after by Mr Foong.

Evidence earlier in the trial revealed that Kong's deputies had sought advice from Mr Foong even though he was not the church's lead auditor at the time. Kong said he would always direct them to see Mr Foong, before the church embarked on any major financial transactions, especially those involving significant amounts.

CROSSOVER PROJECT'S IMPACT ON THE CHURCH

Monday's appearance marked the first time Kong - accused along with five deputies of misusing millions of church dollars to bankroll the church's Crossover Project - is taking the stand in his defence.

The project, fronted by Kong's wife Sun Ho, is the church's way of spreading the gospel through secular pop music. Kong said in court that the project was supported by the church members and its board, and had grown the church's congregation "exponentially".

"If not for the Crossover, we would be just another neighbourhood church. The Crossover Project doubled, tripled our congregation size," he told the court.

Kong also elaborated on how the church members had supported the project, not just in donations or by buying Ms Ho's albums, but also volunteering to help at her outreach concerts overseas - entirely at their own expense.

EVANGELICAL CONCERTS

In giving the court a lengthy explanation of how the Crossover Project was conceived, Kong said that Ms Ho and the church did not lose sight of their evangelical purpose.

He explained how at her outreach concerts, she would perform secular songs for the first 75 minutes, before sharing her testimony as a Christian and singing one Gospel song.

The court heard that following the launch of two of her albums, Ms Ho reached out to 109,000 people through concerts in places including Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia and Sweden. As a result, 33,000 people "received Christ into their lives".

Kong's lawyer Edwin Tong also emphasised that none of the accused persons stole, cheated or otherwise profited dishonestly from the church's monies, and there was no financial loss to the church.

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